Directors: 

Chantal Akerman, Fatih Akin, Robert Aldrich, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodóvar, Lisandro Alonso, Robert Altman, Alejandro Amenábar, Lindsay Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Theo Angelopoulos, Kenneth Anger,
Michelangelo Antonioni, Gregg Araki, Dario Argento, Andrea Arnold, Olivier Assayas, Jacques Audiard  

 

 

Abbas, Khwaja Ahmad

 

THE CITY AND THE DREAM (Shehar Aur Sapna)

India  (120 mi)  1963

 

K. A. Abbas (1914-1987)  Carol Slingo from Jump Cut

 

SEVEN INDIANS (Saat Hindustani)

India  (144 mi)  1969

 

User comments  from imdb Author: BigB-Shahenshah from United Kingdom

Saat Hindustani (08-Jun-69) Film: 6/10 Amitabh: 6/10

Amitabh Bachchan's first film, he plays a role of a Muslim poet (Anwar Ali Anwar), who is 1 of seven, Indian freedom fighters. His character is one of a coward and is a must see for all Amitabh fans. The other cast is also good however the screenplay is slow.

Amitabh shows his ability is an up and coming actor and as a result won The National Award for the most Promising Newcomer. Tinnu Anand was supposed to play one of the seven protagonists in the movie, the director Khwaja Ahmad Abbas decided to cast a newcomer Amitabh Bachchan over Tinnu Anand.

Abel, Dominique with Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy

 

L’ICEBERG                                                              B                     84

Belgium  (84 mi)  2005

 

an Eskimo tale

 

A film with a unique perspective, a droll, near deadpan comedy that attempts to tell a bizarre love story by focusing on a woman who spends a night locking herself in a store freezer, who has surprising change of life issues afterwards, attracted to all things cold, no longer interested in coming home to her suburban husband and two kids, but becomes obsessed with frozen lockers and wanders off, infatuated by a deaf sailor, drawing a picture of love on an iceberg that she hopes he would understand, that becomes the basis for their first love encounter.  Within no time at all, she has no use for her family and wants to spend every waking hour with the sailor, hoping he takes her as far north as possible, beautifully expressed through a restless night under the covers, eventually finding just the right iceberg formation with the sheets that matches the image in her mind.  The story is told entirely by Jacques Tati sight gags, by brief hit or miss sketches that are occasionally hilarious, other times awful, creating dead space.  But it hardly matters, as the characters are appealing and the physical slapstick comedy always works, even when you know ahead of time what’s coming.  The pratfalls in this movie are uproariously funny. 

 

This is not like anything playing out in the multiplexes, as it has a style peculiarly its own, led by a group of writers/performers that are trained in pantomime and circus performance, so they excel at exquisite timing.  The sad sack husband Julien (Dominique Abel) can’t face seeing her go, as his wife Fiona (Fiona Gordon) takes him to the ends of the world, turning into a road movie on water, pushing to the limits the small lobster boat of René (Philippe Martz) called the Titanique (of course it’s heading for an iceberg).  Beforehand, there’s a wild dance sequence, where Fiona’s happiness is expressed in her body language, which is flailing all over the place.  There’s a wonderful scene where she’s ecstatically dancing with her sailor man, both are extending the limits of “Rite of Spring” body contortions, where poor René keeps dancing after the music has stopped.   But when Julien becomes overjoyed at the thought that he’s bringing his wife back home, she runs off on him, heading back out to sea where he just misses the boat.  But not to worry, there are Buster Keaton boat shenanigans out of NAVIGATOR with hugely expressive cloud and sky formations until the inevitable meeting with an iceberg.  It’s an uplifting journey, derailed from time to time by poor choices, but always offering enough of a payoff to make this a rare film experience.     

 

The Village Voice [Jim Ridley]

If the sight gag is dead, this excruciatingly precious Belgian comedy is less a resurrection than an autopsy. Made by a troupe of actors with a background in pantomime and circus performance, it sounds delightful on paper: a largely wordless absurdist farce about a fast-food manager (Fiona Gordon) who sets sail for chilly adventure with a mute sea captain after she gets locked overnight in a freezer—and her robotic family doesn't notice she's gone. The performers (especially Dominique Abel as the husband, who has a face like pulled taffy) have the right pipe-cleaner look for physical comedy; the gag setups, from a scarf caught in the freezer door to fun with goofy back-projection screens, would have Buster Keaton doing a saber dance on banana peels. But there's nothing eruptive or disruptive about the slapstick: Every color-drenched neat-freak shot is as fussily framed as a New Yorker cartoon—Tati by way of Wes Anderson —and the result packs all the hilarity of a museum installation on The Semiotics of Silent Comedy.

Slant Magazine [Keith Uhlich]

Physical comedy in cinema, at least of recent vintage, so rarely rises above a kind of kick-the-cojones mediocrity (not, mind you, to completely devalue the groin shot—let us all now genuflect before The Simpsons's "George C. Scott in Man Getting Hit by Football"), so the Belgian production L'Iceberg is a more than welcome breath of fresh air. Make that Arctic air, for that's what inspires the impulsive actions of the film's gangly protagonist Fiona (Fiona Gordon, suggesting Tilda Swinton by way of Olive Oyl), who goes off in search of the titular landmass after accidentally locking herself in a walk-in freezer. Something of a stylistic throwback to Jacques Tati's stoic comedies of observation, L'Iceberg truly defies any attempts at encapsulation. Minimal dialogue and copious, often hilarious, rear-projection share space with stunning location footage, through which the film's varied Belgian and French landscapes become gag-filled playgrounds of insight into the human condition. Ostensibly a deadpan examination of bourgeois selfishness, L'Iceberg rather drolly reveals itself—via touchingly amateurish bookends—as an Inuit tribeswoman's (Lucy Tulugarjuk) recollection of how she first met her husband. Writer-directors Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy are clearly on the side of life's outsiders (note the particularly inspired gag at a border check), perfectly willing to play fate's fools so that an ineffable true love can find its fullest, most joyous cinematic expression.

New York Times (registration req'd)  Matt Zoller Seitz

This debut feature by the filmmaking team of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy earns two adjectives that rarely go together: breezy and bold. The film charts one woman's journey from dronelike suburban mom and fast-food manager to would-be Arctic explorer. It starts when the heroine, Fiona (Ms. Gordon), is trapped in a restaurant freezer overnight and realizes she enjoyed the experience. She subjects herself to increasingly severe endurance tests and becomes obsessed with images of icebergs, even carving one in her freezer at home (like Richard Dreyfuss creating Devils Tower from mashed potatoes in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind").

The movie is structured as a series of brazenly metaphoric slapstick tableaus, with little music and less dialogue. Relying on static wide shots that pin the characters to their color-coded environments (a style choice that links the film to the work of Buster Keaton, Jacques Tati, Jim Jarmusch and other deadpan fabulists), "L'Iceberg" treats Fiona's journey as a mythic quest. Its simultaneously silly and grave tone finds humor in the characters' delusions and obsessions while celebrating their uniqueness.

The movie's high point is a scene in which a sleeping Fiona writhes beneath a sheet in her marital bed, her arms and legs jutting out in protoplasmic formations, an image of evolutionary transformation as eerie as the final shot of the Star Child in "2001," and much funnier.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein)

If you’re not familiar with the traditions of clowning and the commedia dell’arte, you might peg the highly stylized, rambunctiously funny Belgian clown odyssey L’Iceberg as avant-garde. On the contrary, it is derrière-garde, like a kick in the derrière. It is to die and go to heaven—or at least the North Pole—for. That’s where its heroine, Fiona (Fiona Gordon), treks after she’s accidentally locked overnight in a walk-in freezer in her fast-food restaurant and emerges with a creeping aversion to her suburban rinky-tink house and suburban-zombie spouse, Julien (Dominique Abel). Drawn back—as if by cosmic force—to the freezer in which her emotional compass was upended, Fiona has a mystical vision of a twin-peaked iceberg. And so begins her journey north, in a refrigerator truck, then a busload of oldsters, and finally the lobster boat of a hangdog, deaf-mute sailor, René (Philippe Martz)—an unstable but very sweet lug who becomes the vessel for Fiona’s romantic obsessions.

The three directors—Abel, Gordon, and Bruno Romy—are prodigious performers, and the movie they’ve cooked up plays like a circusy hallucination on Ibsen’s A Doll’s House addled with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I could throw in Laurel and Hardy and Jacques Tati, but the movie forges its own unique language. L’Iceberg is a procession of tableaux vivants: little proscenium stages, sometimes with rear-projected exteriors, on which enchanting slapstick routines erupt. There’s a giddy interplay of light and color and flabbergasting shapes, like the ovoid mouth of Abel as he yawns—the Munchian scream of yawns. I defy you not to gasp at Gordon’s wordless ballet under a white sheet, legs and limbs shooting every which way until the very image of the iceberg rises up from her bed. Not every sight gag works, and there’s a brief stretch in the middle where the action becomes landlocked. But once we’re out to sea the movie goes swimmingly—its three protagonists fighting, flailing, and often on the verge of drowning as their tiny skiff surges toward the land of the Inuit.

A skinny, freckled redhead, Fiona Gordon looks a little like Carol Burnett stretched out, and she has a similar dedication to her character’s lapses in sanity. Watch her ecstatic frug on the mud flats at low tide and marvel at those long, loose limbs, at the most lyrical spasticity in modern movies.

Backstory.

The heroine of L’Iceberg spends the night in a walk-in freezer and lives to see the morning. Impossible? Well, severe hypothermia doesn’t set in until the body’s core temperature falls to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and she does take some protective measures. And arguably, stranger things have happened to people—and animals—trapped in cold places. An Oklahoma City cat survived being stuck in a refrigerator for a month without food or water after a 4-year-old forgot he put it there for safekeeping, and a 19-year-old in Ontario reportedly endured severe hypothermia for over thirteen hours before he was found in a frozen creek. Two days later, he was back on his feet again.

Spirituality & Health (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat)

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Time Out

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Reel Movie Critic [Pam and George Singleton]

 

RUMBA                                                         B-                    82

Belgium  France  (77 mi)  2008

 

This is the kind of film you’d like to adore, as it has a unique appeal all of its own, almost entirely wordless with continual sight gags.  But for all its silent film originality, it doesn’t entirely work as there’s a great deal of repetition and some of the material is funnier and more provocative than other parts, making it difficult to string it all together into one cohesive whole without much of a storyline.  While in the throes of marital bliss, Dom and Fiona (the directors using their real names) adore Latin ballroom dancing, emblematic of their love for one another, and can be seen performing a wild rhumba all decorated in a candy colored pastiche.  Much of this resembles cartoonist Jules Feiffer’s liberating depiction of “A Dance to Spring,” where Fiona especially has a way of contorting her entire body like she’s an elastic woman.  Dominique is more of a deadpan, and something of a sad sap, reminding me sometimes of John Cleese without a voice, always a little bit uncomfortable, as if restricted within the confines his own body.  From the outset, both teach elementary kids at the same school until, as fate would have it, tragedy occurs on the heels of their greatest success.  In perhaps the funniest sequence in the film, certainly one of the darkest, Gerard (Philippe Martz) stands on the railroad tracks, suicide note in hand, ready to end his life.  But as he stands alone on a tressel waiting for a train, all he can hear is a continual parade of cars passing by just below.  So he hikes down a hill, puts his possessions aside, leaving his note on top, and awaits the next car.  Of course, next thing he hears is a train whistle which whizzes by just before he has a chance to get back on the tracks.  I find this kind of bleak tragedy to be utterly hilarious, as it’s a comment on the human condition when a man is such a failure that he can’t even succeed in killing himself.  Instead, Dom and Fiona drive into a bridge attempting to avoid Gerard standing mysteriously in the middle of the road after dark. 

 

She ends up in traction, all but her face and right toes covered in a plaster cast, while he suffers from amnesia and can’t remember anything.  She’s delighted to see him, while he can’t remember who she is, beautifully expressed in a wonderfully drawn out scene where he asks if she’d like some coffee, but then gets confused, as he searches the premises of his hospital room and can’t find any, only to turn around and get startled at this mysterious stranger standing there, asking again if she’d like some coffee, a scene that repeats itself three or four times.  They return to school, but they’re not themselves, as Fiona in particular reverts to slapstick physical comedy as she attempts to manage two crutches, her notebook, and a chair before taking one giant pratfall.  Horrible things continue to happen to them, until out of nowhere, they sing a duet together, an oddly optimistic fireside camp rendition of Phil Phillips’s 1959 hit “Sea of Love,” before things degenerate even further, as all manner of mayhem follows, with little odd moments that are peculiarly funny.  Dom gets lost and can’t remember where he lives, so he ends up at the beach, taking a turn into an oddly perverted tribute to Jacques Tati’s MONSIEUR HULOT’S HOLIDAY (1953). One of the most charming aspects of the film are the cheesy backdrops, seen in the windows of a car as the 1950’s looking production values become the highlight of the scene, also a little hut on the beach with a single window facing the ocean, which makes it look like they’re in the ocean, not near it.  While the use of romantic Latin ballads oddly juxtaposed against a peculiar real life setting has been used to perfection before by the likes of Wong Kar-wai in nearly every film, or Tsai Ming-liang who literally toys with the concept in THE HOLE (1998), what this group does with fiery love ballads by Benny Moré or Pérez Prado is counter the romantic grandiosity with something altogether miniscule, yet still utterly rewarding.  There are plenty of ups and downs here, where several of the bits go on too long or lose what’s funny about it, but overall the wacky tone is upbeat and life affirming.           

"Son Al Son"
Written by Portilla de la Luz
Performed by Orquesta Aragón featuring Cheo Feliciano
Copyright by Seemsa, 1999 Lusafrica (courtesy of Lusafrica)

"Obsesion"
Written by Pedro Flores Cordova
Performed by Benny Moré and Pedro Vargas
Copyright by Southern Publishing Co. Inc. Peermusic (Belgium) s. a.

"Tabù"
Written by Margarita Lecuona
Performed by Dámaso Pérez Prado
Copyright by Peer International Corporation
Courtesy of Sony BMG Music Entertainment

"Sea of love"
Written by P. Baptiste and George Khoury
Performed by Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon
Copyright by Fort Knox Music Inc/Trio Music Inc. Peermusic (Belgium)
Courtesy of Mk2 and Courage Mon amour

"Sombras"
Written ny C. Brito Rosario Sansores
Performed by Blanca Rosa Gil
Copyright by P.H.A.M.-Paramusic (Belgium)
Courtesy of Egrem

"Obsesion"
Written by Pedro Flores Cordova
Performed by Daniel Santos and Julio Jaramillo
Copyright by Southern Publishing Co. Inc. Peermusic (Belgium) s. a.

NewCity Chicago  Ray Pride

The directing-performing team behind “L’iceberg,” Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, return with deadpan dance comedy “Rumba,” which resembles Jarmusch or Kaurismaki, but with a tart, absurdist Belgian bent. The duo plays schoolteachers fascinated by Latin dance. Despite resemblances and parallels, minimalist comedy has a different affect depending on the culture; their Tati-esque distortions of the human form have a bite that still seems uniquely their own, especially when things turn black and blacker: complications of a car crash lead to a lost leg and amnesia, among other things. It’s the most inventive tragedy of the year! The fiery color palette is a rush all on its own. 77m.

RUMBA   Facets Multi Media

Through a series of surreal jokes, a couple turns tragic accidents into a deadpan comedy routine. Elementary school teachers by day, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon (co-writers/directors going by their real first names) are trophy winning tango dancers at night. They celebrate life in every way they can, mostly in dance and loving each other, but after returning from the rumba competition that they have won, their dancing careers are cut short by a car accident leaving both of them seriously injured. Their future as a couple is threatened and then one wonders if they ever be able to get back on their dancing feet again. However, this near-silent comedy proves that optimism and love can overcome the most serious obstacles, using music, creativity, and great comedic storytelling with originality and flare. Directed by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Remy, Belgium/France, 2008, 35mm, 77 mins. In French with English subtitles.

Chicago Reader  JR Jones

Whimsical and candy-colored, this French-Belgian comedy may immediately call to mind Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie (2001), but its stylized two-dimensionality--symmetrical compositions, geometric slapstick, characters flattened out like paper dolls--is more directly influenced by Buster Keaton's surreal silent shorts. Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, graceful and goofy physical performers, play an ardent married couple who spend their days teaching grade school and their nights tearing it up at Latin dance competitions, until an auto accident costs her a leg and him his short-term memory. The story plays out with an absolute minimum of dialogue, and the visual gags are highly inventive. In a comedy market dominated by crudity, sarcasm, and smug pop-culture references, laughs this pure hit like lightning. Abel directed. In French with subtitles. 74 min.

Little White Lies magazine  Laurene Boyce

In an age when cinema has become increasingly homogenised, it’s a rare thing indeed to find a film that feels quite unlike anything that has come before. While Rumba certainly displays a number of influences – from the physical comedy of Jacques Tati to the colourful aesthetic of Amélie – it is a wonderfully strange and unique movie that inhabits a little world of its own.

The film’s principle directors, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, take the lead roles as two teachers at a country school who harbour a deep love for each other and for Latin dance. Champions on the dance circuit, their existence is close to perfection. But after crashing their car in an attempt to avoid a suicidal pedestrian, their lives take a turn for the worse. Before long, cruel fate and the machinations of an unjust universe have unravelled the world in which they live. Will they ever re-discover paradise?

Rumba throws the audience into a universe in which dialogue is, by and large, redundant. This is a film that celebrates the joy of physicality, from the central characters’ love of dance to innumerable set pieces that are a joy to behold. One scene in particular, in which the protagonists change into their dancing gear while still driving their car, stands alongside some of the best physical comedy seen in the cinema for quite some time. And yet, in amongst the tone of optimism and wonderment that permeates the film, there’s a deliciously dark edge to proceedings that stops it drowning in mawkishness and sentimentality.

There is also something profoundly affecting about its personal nature. The fact that Abel and Gordon (a real life couple) play characters named Fiona and Dom suggests a real connection to the material that adds an extra level of fascination.

The cinematography is also top-notch, with a riot of colours that slowly turns darker as the situation for our heroes becomes grimmer. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that the cinema is primarily a visual language in which the simplest glance can convey a whole world of emotions. From the moments of bravura comedy to the tightly plotted series of coincidences, Rumba is a reminder just how powerful a medium it can be.

Guardian UK   Peter Bradhsaw

Strictly Jacques Tati is the order of the day for this engaging, gentle and lovable film about a married couple who live for ballroom dancing. It really does grow on you. Rumba is created by three writer-performers, Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel and Bruno Romy, who have worked a good deal in the theatre, and produced some short films. This is their feature debut, and it's certainly a change of pace. In the movie marketplace, comedy seems often driven by cynicism and gouging the audience for laughs. Edgy prankster-humorists are out to elicit some pleasurably scandalised gasps of shock; the Apatow generation shrewdly spoon a little sentiment into the mix and the romcom production line churns out films that are all rom and no com – and not much genuine rom, either. But this film is different: it harks back to silent and semi-silent genres with a quieter comic style, and it isn't all about irony and alienation, but rather sympathetic assent.

Gordon and Abel play Fiona and Dom, a married teacher-couple who are much loved by their pupils but live for the Latin American ballroom competitions that they rule in the evenings and weekends with their passionate rumba. There is a nice, relaxed sight gag about the end of a school day: jubilant, cheering kids run in a seemingly endless line out of the exit doors, followed by a short pause, and then a shorter line of grown-up teachers follows them, cheering in exactly the same way. Fiona and Dom have more to cheer about than most.

But driving home one night from a typical trophy-winning success they encounter a dorky depressive, played by Martz, who is attempting, incompetently, to take his own life. His appearance brings about a catastrophe that causes their lives and relationship to unravel. But finally, through a series of wacky coincidences – existential pratfalls of fate – they are to be reunited, though a visual joke concerning a rubber ring at the end of the final credits shows that the ­ incorrigibly idiotic Martz is still addicted to unsuccessful attempts at topping himself.

The general silent-movie-comedy style, together with a couple of specific allusions to Mr Hulot's Holiday, summon up the spirit of Tati, and these players are not embarrassed in his company. Cleverly, Gordon and Abel enact a broken choreography of happenstance: an absurd and chaotic dance of fate the characters are forced to undergo when a chance disaster disrupts their happy marital two-step. You will need to be a little patient and indulgent with this brand of comedy, but its sweetness of nature will win you round. Other comics of the post-Borat/Brüno generation may be going for in-your-face gags, but Abel, Gordon and Romy are trying to get out of your face – and into your heart.

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Moving Pictures Magazine [Ron Holloway]

 

Rumba   Lisa Nesselson at Cannes from Screendaily

 

Avuncular American [Gerald Loftus]

 

Interview with Abel/Gordon  Interview by  Dimitra Bouras and J-M. Vlaeminckx from Cineuropa September 8, 2008

 

The Hollywood Reporter review    Bernard Besserglik

 

Channel 4 Film

 

Variety  Jordan Mintzer

 

TimeOut Chicago  Hank Sartin

 

Time Out London (David Jenkins) review [3/6]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

 

Abel/Gordon site

 

Jules Feiffer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

A gallery of Feiffer's work

 

Jules Feiffer - Adam Baumgold 

 

THE FAIRY (La Fee)

France  Belgium  (94 mi)  2011

The Fairy  Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily

In their third feature, gifted physical comedians Abel, Gordon and Romy gracefully build on their distinctive brand of burlesque humour. They have also been building an audience base, and The Fairy (La Fee) - which opened Director’s Fortnight - is unlikely to buckle that trend with its Chaplain-esque interludes set in an off-kilter, colour-drenched Le Havre.

Theirs is an old-fashioned, almost silent, routine (their first feature L’Iceberg was virtually wordless) blended beautifully with an arresting dance element. With their angular, exaggerated features, Brussels-based Gordon, Abel and Romy are akin to a circus clown troupe, vaudevillians who sprinkle the big screen with their art and unique aesthetic. The Fairy is not for everyone, but most people who try it should like it.

As with 2008’s Rumba, Gordon and Abel play Fiona and Dom. This time, they haven’t met yet. He’s a night porter at a run-down hotel; she’s a self-proclaimed fairy in a dirty tracksuit who rescues him from choking on a ketchup top in some particularly broad comic scenes. An Englishman (Martz) also checks into the same hotel with a dog hidden in his bag.

The Fairy soon ups the ante, with Fiona stealing some clothes and shoes from local shops for her date with Dom; the first of the film’s many amusing fixed-camera chases with the police ensues. Eventually they meet at the Love Is Blurred bar (L’Amour Flou), where they encounter its almost-blind manager (Romy). They fall in love, of course, in a dance sequence set underwater; the effects are worthy of a bathtub, but the performance itself is mesmerising.

By this time, the audience is completely on-side, and when Fiona becomes pregnant their antics scale up a notch further, culminating in a sequence worthy of the best of Tati or Keaton with a bar full of female rugby players and a mad dash after a baby stuck on the bonnet of a car which is being driven by a blind man with three illegal aliens in the boot. Only in Le Havre.

Rumba, which played out in the Quinzaine, notched over 100,000 admissions in France and sold to the US (Koch-Lorber). Now opening Director’s Fortnight, Gordon, Abel and Remy have slightly widened their scope but retained the unique elements which make them so special. While Dinah Washington’s What A Difference A Day Makes studs the piece, a particularly memorable moment comes when one of the Les Dieselles rugby players (Lemarchand) performs a knockout version of the Kurt Weil song Youkali.

The Fairy (La Fee): Cannes Review  Jordan Mintzer at Cannes from The Hollywood Review, May 12, 2011

CANNES -- Dishing out another slew of colorfully anarchistic sight gags, Belgium-based trio Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy are back with their latest Keystone-style romp, The Fairy (La Fee). Firmly grounded in the work of Chaplin, Keaton and especially Jacques Tati, to which they add a few welcome socio-political twists, these talented writers-directors-actors should have their wish granted with further arthouse exposure following an opening bow in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight.

As they already revealed in their previous features, Iceberg and Rumba (which played the 2008 Critics’ Week), the team applies an old school approach to their light-hearted comic scenarios, lining up a series of slapstick episodes that hark back to the silent film era, and could justifiably work without any sound at all. While dialogue is sparingly and often cleverly used, music however plays an important role by allowing these acrobatic performers to engage in a handful of graceful dance sequences that serve as brief intermissions to the action.

Set in the gloomy port city of Le Havre, the film kicks off with its most successfully extended number when we’re introduced to a hotel night clerk, Dom (Abel), who’s pleasant soiree in front of the TV is interrupted with the arrival of an English tourist (Philippe Martz), and then of a svelte, shoeless woman (Gordon), who claims she’s a fairy and grants Dom three wishes. Like any self-respecting Frenchman living outside of Paris, Dom asks for a scooter and an endless supply of gas, and though he gets his wish, what he really wants is the love of the fairy herself.

Thus begins a series of skillfully executed, increasingly irreverent bits which accompany Dom and the fairy as they try to reunite, and in the process cross paths with African immigrants (Vladimir Zorano, Wilson Goma) attempting to hop the ferry to England. This, along with the fairy’s internment in a psychiatric hospital, adds a darker bent to the otherwise jovial atmosphere, and its through such contradictions that Gordon and Abel manage to underline their comedy with an honest emotional calling.

Though some of the gags fall short, and the story slows down about midway through, there’s enough ingenuity in the filmmakers’ approach to keep one guessing as to what will be the next brunt of the joke: a pen, a puppy, even a newborn baby are all up for grabs, and it’s encouraging to find humor that can be rowdy without dropping f-bombs or tossing out pairs of panties (which isn’t to say that the two are afraid to perform in the nude, or to simulate both a drug overdose and a live birth on the ledge of a four-story building.)

Tati’s hand is evident in the exceptionally precise art direction and camerawork by regulars Nicholas Girault and Claire Childeric, which allows each joke to build itself through repetition and the addition of unexpected elements. The retro attitude is further apparent in the recurrence of jazz standard “What a Difference a Day Makes,” as well as the use of rear projection in a road chase that may shock some in its all-out recklessness.

Abrahamson, Larry

 

ADAM & PAUL

Ireland  (83 mi)  2004                Official site

 

Adam & Paul | review, synopsis, book tickets ... - Time Out  Nigel Floyd 

 

Mordantly funny and unexpectedly poignant, Lenny Abrahamson’s Dublin-set debut feature about two hapless junkies in search of a fix benefits greatly from his confident, low-key direction. There is some nicely judged acting, too, from Tom Murphy and Mark O’Halloran, the latter of whom wrote the script. Waking on an abandoned mattress in the middle of nowhere, the titular pair start their tragic-comic, city-wide search for the elusive, Godot-like ‘what’s-his-name’. Fusing the slapstick comedy and verbal misunderstandings of Laurel and Hardy with the bleak absurdities of Samuel Beckett is a tall order, but the film’s subtle modulations and unforced humour never lose sight of the pair’s last scraps of humanity. This is particularly hard to pull off, since Adam (O’Halloran) and Paul (Murphy) are so innately unsympathetic. Their inept attempts at thievery are played for laughs, as are Paul’s multiplying physical injuries, and their spiky conversation with a Bulgarian also down on his luck (‘I had to leave Sofia.’/‘Was she pregnant?’). These comic scenes, though, are contrasted with interludes of quiet tenderness, squirm-inducing awkwardness and alienating amorality. We learn, for example, that Adam and Paul have been too selfishly preoccupied with their drug habit to mourn the recent death of a childhood friend. Even more shocking is the desperate duo’s callous robbing of a vulnerable young lad with Down’s Syndrome.   What might have been an indulgent or evasive comedy about two likeable but damaged drug addicts is saved by its unflinching honesty. And what looks like a fairytale ending turns credibly dark, cutting to the cruel heart of Adam and Paul’s squalid junkie existence.

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Angus Wolfe Murray

There are films that make you dance and films that make you sing. There are also films that make you want to kill yourself. Adam & Paul is one of these. If this review peters out in a jumble of negative phrases, you know what to do - call the ambulance.

Adam and Paul are known as "the tall one" and "the short one." Names are as irrelevant as hope, love, creativity, warmth and the sound of laughter. This is Ireland, Dublin possibly, a rainy city, where violence on the estates is endemic and petty crime the closest anyone is going to get to God's mercy. Survival for the dispossessed and the vagrants requires imagination and luck. "The tall one" and "the short one" have neither.

They drift aimlessly from one place to another, suffering the humiliation of rejection, occasionally encountering the generosity of strangers (a fag, a can of lager). "The short one" is a whiner and "the tall one" practically mute. They have no charm, charisma or interest. They are lost souls who can barely articulate their despair. Watching them is like watching slugs in slurry.

This film has been compared to Samuel Beckett. PERLEEEASE..!! There is poetry and humour in the works of Godot's man. There is nothing of the kind here, only bleakness and more bleakness and the promise of bleakness to come. Even the cinematography is bleak, rinsed colour, a rough video quality, half blurred images, darkened by the stain of blood.

Things move on, but because you don't care, it doesn't matter. Emotions dry up like overcooked semolina and the heartbeat slows. When final credits roll and the lights come up, you feel like a hedgehog awakening from a long winter.

What to say about the performances? Naturalistic is a word that covers it. Bravery, perhaps, because no actor wants to portray null, let alone void. The director (Lenny Abrahamson) and writer (Mark O'Halloran), who happens to be "the tall one," deserve to be congratulated for not compromising and for having the courage of their convictions. It doesn't make the film any easier on the eye.

When Mike Leigh made Naked in 1993, his protagonist (David Thewlis) had a passion and an anger that howled against the filth of his existence. These stumbling derelicts do not have the energy to wipe rat's faeces off their shoes.

A Full Tank of Gas... [Richard Cross]

There’s something of Laurel & Hardy about Adam & Paul (Mark O’Halloran and the late Tom Murphy), a couple of hopeless Dublin heroin addicts whose entire lives are centred around finding enough money to buy their next fix.   In fact, Murphy even appears to be doing a Stan Laurel impression as he sits on a bench listlessly munching on a pilfered baguette, and the slapstick elements of the story echo those of the vintage duo.   But Adam & Paul are the flipside of Laurel & Hardy, the dark realism of a fanciful illusion; they’re pitiful ghosts, haunting the run-down council estates and the shiny tourist attractions of modern-day Dublin.   They’re pathetic but likeable, and they humanise those sadly familiar figures found in every city.

The film is untroubled by a plot, following, instead, the aimless wanderings of the eponymous characters.   Adam awakens from a night sleeping rough on a mattress to discover that some joker has glued his trousers and jacket to it.   Once Paul has freed him, they immediately go in search of drugs, only to be chased out of a high-rise flat by the pusher they’re trying to score from.   They come across a friend playing football in the park with his son, and then a group of friends who are less than thrilled to see

them.   Adam & Paul are a considerable number of rungs further down the ladder than their friends, but there’s a hopelessness about them all, a sense of demons taking over all their lives.   A picnic in the park for them consists of drinking cheap beer and smoking joints while the kids play football.

The film Adam & Paul continues in this vein for its relatively brief running time (around 82 minutes).   The bleakness of its storyline and the environment in which it takes place is leavened by moments of unexpected humour.   Paul suffers a number of physical mishaps throughout the day, and the pair of them have an encounter with a truculent Romanian.   They then have a run-in with a thug who mistakenly believes they’re spreading the word around the City that he owes them money, which ends in an almost farcical situation when he press-gangs them into acting as lookouts while he and his mate trash a service station shop.   Inevitably, some episodes are stronger than others – their attempt to sell a stolen television is particularly weak - but the scenes that work are particularly well handled.   The duo’s attempted mugging of a mentally challenged youth is played low-key but it’s like a slap in the face to an audience that might have slowly found itself slowly warming towards the wretched duo.   And then their tender handling of a young babe shows an altogether more palatable and sensitive side to their nature.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Ljubljana Film Festival

 

The Spinning Image  Jason Cook

 

Adam & Paul | Variety  Eddie Cockrell

 

BBCi - Films  Jamie Russell

 

Adam & Paul - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

GARAGE

USA  (85 mi)  2007

 

Vitor Pinto  from Cineuropa

Funny, moving and tragic, Garage, the second feature collaboration between director Lenny Abrahamson and scriptwriter Mark O'Holloran – after the award-winning Adam & Paul (see news) – was rumoured to be one of Cannes' good surprises. Confirmation arrived this morning as the film touched the audience of its Directors' Fortnight screening.

Garage tells the story of Josie, a lonely man who looks after a dilapidated petrol station in the Irish mid-west. Despite his lack of success with women and being seen by the rest of the locals as being just another harmless nobody, Josie is nevertheless optimistic. His life will suddenly gain some colour when the teenage David comes to work with him during summer holidays.

The film takes us on a poignant journey, beginning with a glimpse of the locals’ tolerant attitude towards Josie, followed by the character's cheerful transformation as he wanders around with teenagers having beers with them. Actor Pat Shortt gives Josie an incredibly large human dimension, keeping his performance deliberately away from easy stereotypes and judgemental satire.

"What attracted me to the role was his simplicity. I knew it was very different to what had been done before about a character in a rural community," said Shorrt. "But bringing such a character to life was difficult. I was constantly trying to pull it back. In many ways the character is like the ones I write myself, but the comedy is much, much quieter, and the tragedy louder".

More than a portrait of loneliness, Garage also opens a subtle reflection on the role small communities play in people's behaviour. "This is a film about the transformations in rural Ireland that make Josie, and people like him, rootless or homeless," said Abrahamson, who decided to shoot those castrating feelings as an indicator of tragedy.

Garage is an Element Pictures production for the Irish Film Board, Film4, RTÉ and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. International sales are managed by Paris-based MK2.

Garage  Peter Brunette from Screendaily

Calling Garage a "small" film would be true enough, but the Hope diamond, all things considered, is awfully small as well. Both, in any case, are gems.

The second feature of director Lenny Abrahamson, following his well-received debut film Adam & Paul, which won a slew of awards in the UK in 2005, Garage is an ultra-minimalist drama about a sweet and gentle man named Josie (Shortt) who works in a garage in rural Ireland and is treated, sometimes affectionately and sometimes brutally, as the village idiot by all and sundry.

A beatific smile plastered permanently on his face, the large but simple-minded Josie is taken advantage of by his boss, who gets him to work extra hours for no extra pay, and made fun of by his low-life chums in the local pub. When he befriends a new part-time helper at the garage, the 15-year-old David (Ryan), Josie is delighted to have a new drinking companion and fellow porn-watcher, not understanding that the rules of the grown-up world don't permit this kind of relationship.

By conventional standards, the film is quite slow, and won't be to everyone's liking. More patient viewers, however, will appreciate the brilliance of director Abrahamson and screenwriter Mark O'Halloran's calibration of the tiny ticks by means of which the slight story slowly and almost invisibly turns from comedy to tragedy, taking us emotionally along with it.

A great deal of the credit must also be given to actor Pat Shortt who manages to keep our sympathy, interest and identification throughout, while rarely altering expression. In one painful scene, an old friend tries to tell Josie how much pain he is suffering from ill health, but Josie doesn't understand and keeps returning the conversation to the safe exchange of cliches.

The comic timing of the first two thirds of the film, on the part of both actor and director, is impeccable, and every once in a while Abrahamson treats us to a bit of slapstick - as when Josie laboriously gathers up a bunch of empty beer cans, then, finding no receptacle to place them in, throws them all back into the high weeds. This allows us a moment of laughter to keep our focus sharp, yet never belittles the character.

The director and screenwriter are also good at planting little ideas, such as the drowning of some unwanted puppies early on the film, which set up emotional moments that will occur much later. Abrahamson also knows when to lay on the poetry - always in discreet helpings - as with the horse that Josie feeds several times and who appears again at the very end. Many scenes, maybe most of them, seem to be about little more than two people sitting next to each other, staring straight out and saying nothing. Yet they carry an understated resonance that combines with the gorgeous but equally understated cinematography to supply us with a lot more than at first glance meets the eye or the heart.

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Tom Huddleston]

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Jennie Kermode

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

Nerve [Colin Serjent]

 

Chicago Reader [Andrea Gronvall]

 

Garage | review, synopsis, book tickets ... - Time Out  Wally Hammond

 

BBCi - Films  Stella Papamichael

 

FRANK                                                                      A-                    94

Great Britain  Ireland  (95 mi)  2014  ‘Scope                  Official Site

 

One of the more unconventional films dealing with outsider art, a social reality outside the comprehension of most viewers, where the character Frank, Michael Fassbender in a giant cartoon, papier-mâché head that he never takes off, is the leader of a small, almost exclusively unseen and unheard of rock band called the Soronprfbs, a name even the group itself can’t pronounce.  While they are the picture of dysfunction, playing a style of music that defies definition or form, perhaps noise to some, they are a band where the anti-social behavior habits are curiously intriguing, featuring Clara, the ever dour and always angry Maggie Gyllenhaal (outstanding, literally carrying the picture with her resolute defiance) in the Yoko Ono role as the outrageously extreme Theremin and synthesizer player, two French-speaking bohemians (François Civil and Carla Azar) on bass and drums that refuse to even speak most of the time, and the artistic master Frank as the lead singer, a man they all seem to worship, where the demented humor is so off-the-wall that it’s easily one of the funniest films of the year.  Jon Burroughs, Domhnall Gleeson, son of actor Brendon Gleason and one-half of the Weasley twins from HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Pt’s I and II (2010, 11), is a more ordinary kid stuck in a small town in Ireland with ambitions to write songs and play in a rock band.  Purely by chance, Jon happens to be at the beach one day when the keyboard player for the band is seen knee deep in the water supposedly trying to commit suicide, with the police and paramedics on the scene fishing him out of the water.  When the band’s manager and guitar player Don (Scoot McNairy) expresses remorse that they’ve lost a keyboard player, Jon almost instinctively exclaims he’s a keyboard player.  Don walks to a nearby van and confers with the other members of the band before returning, asking, “You play C, F, and G?”  Nodding happily, Don invites him to show up for a performance later that night.  The intersection of Jon’s mediocrity and the group’s outright weirdness becomes the focal point of the film, where Jon becomes our man-on-the-scene narrator offering insight into Frank and Soronprfbs, while also exploring hero worship through a somewhat surreal, musical groupie mindset of Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS (2000).  The film’s premise borrows from a similar cartoon-headed character of Frank Sidebottom, the stage persona of English musician and comedian Chris Sievey who appeared on British television throughout the 80’s and 90’s, passing away in 2010.  The film is dedicated to Sievey, using his image as Frank, so to speak, while taking off from there into unforeseen territory. 

 

A decade ago this director made his debut with ADAM & PAUL (2004), a likeable losers buddy movie following two down-and-out heroin addicts around the streets of Dublin as they drift aimlessly from fix to fix, suffering the humiliation of rejection wherever they go, yet told in a hilarious and heartbreakingly realistic manner, so Abrahamson is familiar with characters on the outer fringe of society.  The writing team of Peter Straughan and Jon Ronson deserve much of the credit for creating such a uniquely original look inside the world of outsider artists, where Ronson based the film on his own experiences playing keyboards for Chris Sievey’s Oh Blimey Big Band, using Gleeson as a stand-in for his own real life character, adding elements of Daniel Johnston, who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and also Captain Beefheart, whose own band eventually quit on him due to his abusive conditions, but who also suffered from multiple sclerosis during his career.  From the first show, however, it’s clear the band has hostility issues, (“Stay away from my fucking Theremin!”) so when they explode in a fury of anger onstage, with Clara breaking her instrument and throwing it at her other band mates, all leaving the stage in an explosion of rage and confusion, Jon is left appropriately stunned as they drive off in their van afterwards without a word.  But when Don invites him to join the band, telling him Frank thought he brought something “cherishable” to the group, Jon jumps at the chance, though what he apparently thought would be a weekend performance turns into an eighteen month long retreat into seclusion at a private estate in Scotland where they could work on recording an album.  To perhaps no one’s surprise, he’s immediately met with a wall of resistance, where the band members believe he’s unworthy of sharing the stage with Frank, Clara especially, as she feels an obsessive need to protect Frank, especially from the likes of someone as mainstream and conventionally normal as Jon, as like the rest of society, clearly he doesn’t “get it.”  For lack of anything better to do, Jon starts tweeting about the band, placing video clips on YouTube and sharing them with the world, where his social media entries become the narration of the film, perhaps centering more on Jon than we’d like, as the person we want to know more about is Frank.  While Jon is in a state of curious bewilderment over that fake head, he asks Don, “He never takes it off?  He sleeps in it?  What about eating?  How does he clean his teeth?”  Don’s toned down, deadpan response is simply, “Jon, you’re just gonna have to go with this.”

 

As it turns out, Frank is the heart and soul of the band, leading them all to their “farthest corners,” where everyone is in awe of him, refusing to record a single note until the entire album is ready, as instead he puts the group through rigorous exercises which always seem to evolve into fights, where “Chinchilla!” is their chosen safety word, though routinely ignored.  Don, we learn, has his own issues, as he has a history of doll fetishism, where the relationship that he prefers most is with mannequins, as otherwise women have to lie completely still.  Having met in a mental institution, Don thinks Frank is the sanest guy he’s ever met, believing they all want to emulate him, but there can only be one Frank.  When an irate German family arrives to their retreat, where Don acknowledges they’ve spent all the rent money and were supposed to be out a month ago, Frank goes out to speak to them in fluent German, not only calming them down, but as they leave voluntarily, one of them is thanking him for “this new truth in my soul.”  Jon’s dabbling on social media, however, eventually accumulates an audience with 23,000 hits on one of the videos he posted, so he secretly signs the group up for the SXSW music festival in Austin, informing Frank that they have an “audience.”  While Frank appears tempted by the idea of getting his music in front of an actual audience, composing what he calls his most “likeable” song, Frank 2014 - Frank's most likable song ever YouTube (30 sec), the rest of the band has no interest in money or fame, finding it a meaningless diversion which has nothing to due with their true calling—making art—seeing it more as a sell out, the worst kind of bourgeois capitulation.  Shooting the scenes in America in New Mexico and the mountainous plains of Kansas as a substitute for Austin, Texas, Jon leads the band to the Mecca and supposed promised land of indie music, where the film is an outrageous comedy of defied expectations, becoming something more than theater of the absurd, where Jon’s push for stardom and public interest has a detrimental effect on the others who want no part of this publicity stunt, as they could care less about pandering to an audience, eventually having some serious things to say about mental illness, where we find ourselves asking, “How crazy is Frank?”  Instead of this thunderous rush of SXSW Mardi Gras excitement, it’s a plunge into a downbeat, Lynchian netherworld reminiscent of BLUE VELVET (1986) with Maggie Gyllenhaal reprising the Isabella Rossellini role onstage, singing a moody, super slow-motion version of “On Top of Old Smoky” in some empty dive bar to drunks and derelicts that couldn’t be farther away from where Jon wanted to take them, while Frank, without the controlling help of Clara, veers totally out of control, and only then does Jon finally realize he doesn’t “get it.”  It’s a look behind and under the mask, told without any fanfare, quietly probing under the surface at the real anguish and pain that drives some of these troubled artists, who are overcome by an assault of mangled nerves and psychoses, where an audience finds entertainment in the performance of their inner turmoil, unleashed as it is in a stream-of-conscience barrage (“Screeching frequencies of pulsing infinity!”) of wounded psychedelic images that resemble the crazed inner ramblings of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl, leaving the audience transfixed in a haunted state of bewilderment.    

 

Flavorwire [Jason Bailey]

 

Expectation is no small influence on the moviegoing experience, and perhaps it works in Frank‘s favor that it sounds, going in, so insufferable: the story of a bizarre band making peculiar music under the guidance of the titular frontman, who never removes his giant plastic mascot head. But tone is key, and Frank isn’t overly enamored with its own hipness; it’s a little daft and a lot of fun, with a well-proportioned dusting of serious undertones. Michael Fassbender gives an inspired physical and vocal performance as the guy under the fake head, while Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderfully brittle and more than a little broken. Endearingly deadpan and approachably absurd, it’s a weird, bighearted treat.

 

Angeliki Coconi's Unsung Films [Hannah McHaffie]  also seen here:  ReelInsights.co.uk [Hannah McHaffie]

There are just too many things that have inspired and influenced Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank so I won’t even begin to go into them. But I will say this: this is not the biography of either Frank Sidebottom or Chris Sievey, although both have had an impact on the film in different ways. When Jon, a slave to the nine-to-five, gets the chance to play keyboard for a band whose name is unpronounceable he jumps at the opportunity. An aspiring musician who can’t get his songs to come out “not shit”, Jon eventually finds himself in a cabin with the band, recording their next album. What Jon believed to be a weekend trip to Scotland for a gig turns into eleven months of soul searching, music making, madness, genius and chaos.

The film is narrated by Jon and his twitter updates. The film centres on Jon for the most part, although it is Frank who we really want to know. The band is made up of a sulky French guitarist, and an equally moody French female drummer, a terrifying and twisted theremin and synthesiser player and Frank, the lead vocalist. Frank is the heart and soul of the band; the leader and the brains of the operation. It just so happens that these brains are hidden beneath a large paper-mache head. Nobody has seen what Frank looks like and what appears even more concerning than this is the fact that, apart from Jon, nobody else seems to want to.

 

Ten years ago, Lenny Abrahamson made his debut with Adam and Paul - a hilarious and heart-breaking story that followed two heroin addicts around Dublin as they attempt to make money, get a fix and cling to the edges of society. It has been suggested by much greater critics than I that Frank is also presenting such characters; individuals unable to fit in or be understood within the cultural norms.

 

Jon initially holds the story together, being perhaps the only recognisably “ordinary” character – or at least at first. As the film progresses, the lines grow blurrier. Is Frank a genius or just another victim of poor mental health? You’ll think you know at first but you’ll be questioning your own understanding of this film at around the forty-five minute mark. Frank is made brilliant by its actors. Domhnall Gleeson is surprisingly hilarious as Jon whose views we share for most of the journey. Michael Fassbender manages to bring a charisma and a striking personality to Frank despite the obstruction of a fake head.

 

Yet, it is Maggie Gyllenhaal who makes this movie. She never disappoints me and has proved, through Frank, just how simultaneously precise and erratic she can be as an actress. She gives a powerhouse performance that deserves a lot more attention. The film gets better and better and although I am not as bowled over by Frank as perhaps I should be, I do think this is a clever and unpredictable indie romp that climbs to extraordinary heights in its closing moments.

 

Sight & Sound [Ryan Gilbey]  May 9, 2014

Frank Sidebottom was a musical performer who combined parched Mancunian wit with avant-garde nuttiness and vaudevillian showmanship. His most striking feature was his spherical papier-mâché head with its painted-on features: saucer-sized blue eyes, pursed ruby lips and slicked-down, side-parted black hair. Created and portrayed by the late Chris Sievey, who died in 2010 aged 54, he epitomised the northern overlap between indie, punk and music hall along with the likes of Half Man Half Biscuit, John Cooper Clarke, Vic Reeves and Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

The journalist, author and broadcaster Jon Ronson wrote an article about his own spell in the late 1980s as a keyboard player in Frank’s Oh Blimey Big Band. This has now become the basis for Frank, co-written by Ronson and Peter Straughan (who collaborated previously on a screen adaptation of Ronson’s non-fiction book The Men Who Stare at Goats).

It marks a return to the study of tensions between the marginal and the mainstream for the Irish director Lenny Abrahamson. His last picture, What Richard Did (2012), focused on a young rugby player whose dazzling prospects are jeopardised when he commits a spontaneous act of violence. Prior to that, Abrahamson’s protagonists had been outsiders: the junkies of Adam & Paul (2004), the petrol-station attendant with learning difficulties in Garage (2007). Like those characters, Frank is at once in the world and hidden from it. Sequestered within that cartoon head he is simultaneously eye-catching and invisible.

The film, which is dedicated to Sievey, retains the rudiments of Frank’s story; other aspects have been fictionalised. Frank is now American, while the music of his group The Soronprfbs (it’s a running joke that even the band members don’t know how to pronounce the name) exudes not the real Frank’s amateurish Bontempi sensibility but the chugging, single-minded grind associated with The Fall or Krautrock bands Neu! and Can. Meanwhile his psychological condition aligns him with rock dropouts and outsiders such as Daniel Johnston and Syd Barrett. “What happened to him?” asks Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), the band’s keyboard player, near the end of the picture. “Nothing ‘happened’ to him,” Frank’s father replies, deflating any zaniness that has accumulated. “He has a mental illness.”

It isn’t exactly that this fact has been kept from us – more that it is one of several uncomfortable truths the film cleverly hides in plain sight. Until the final scenes, Frank’s behaviour is played either for laughs or a plangent strangeness. A pleasurably baggy section in the middle of the picture is devoted to a year-long recording session at a remote log cabin, where Frank’s mixture of perfectionism and eccentricity becomes both liberation and endurance test for the band. Its manager Don (Scoot McNairy) even commits suicide at the end of it, hanging himself while wearing one of Frank’s false heads, initially prompting fears that Frank himself is dead.

This idea of proxies, substitutes and inauthentic copies runs through the film. Jon is a replacement for the original keyboardist, who tries to drown himself after suffering a breakdown.

The sea always plays a pivotal part in Abrahamson’s work – there were deaths in or beside water in Adam & Paul and Garage, and an important beach scene in What Richard Did – so it’s significant that Frank starts with this near-death by drowning and later features a Norse-style funeral on a lake. Staring out to sea, Jon attempts to compose songs in his head in a series of painfully bad musical doodles to which we alone are privy. This leads to a breakthrough moment when he appears to have hit on a brilliant chord sequence, only for him to realise dejectedly that it is merely ripped off from ‘It Must Be Love’, which he was listening to only moments before. (Interestingly, Jon calls it “Madness’s ‘It Must Be Love’” – another reference to copies, since the original version is by Labi Siffre.)

Duplicates lurk in every corner of the film, beginning with Frank’s artificial head. To anyone who objects that his face is weird, he counters that real ones are just as odd. As if to prove that point, his bandmate and protector/enabler Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) has a face that seems even more immobile than Frank’s illustrated one. (Her severely cut black bob also resembles a parody of his ‘hairstyle’.)

“Would it help if I said my facial expressions out loud?” Frank asks Jon, offering by way of example “Welcoming smile” and “Big, non-threatening grin”. No wonder some members of the entourage have trouble distinguishing between real and bogus, human and artificial – Don, for example, has a penchant for sex with mannequins. Even in death, Don does not escape the curse of the copy: believing themselves to be scattering his ashes in the desert, his friends discover too late that they are instead distributing handfuls of Grownut powder.

This extends to the relationship between reality and pretence within the filmmaking process. Frank is, after all, a kind of deliberate biopic manqué: the Frank Sidebottom story and yet not. But it is also a celebration of uniqueness. Its actors are not only portraying musicians – as with Nashville, all the music we see and hear being performed by the onscreen band is being played by the people on screen.

A more pressing question of authenticity is bound to surround any film in which a major star spends the bulk of his screen time with his face hidden. Given that Frank’s head stays on for all but two scenes, it will be a trusting viewer who doesn’t wonder even for a second whether it’s really Michael Fassbender under there all along. It would be unfair to call the unveiling near the end of the film a failure of nerve, especially since Fassbender gives a finely textured performance both in and out of the head, but it’s hard not to wish that some way had been found to preserve that tension – to keep us tantalised, even suspicious, to the last.

At least Frank has another, more insidious trick up its sleeve, which it is in no hurry to reveal. In the figure of Jon, the film has an obvious stand-in for the audience: he acts as our proxy, our bewildered eyes and ears, as he is drawn deeper into Frank’s oddball world.

The position of main character is a privileged one but it can also be deceptive. Jon is gradually shown to be spectacularly under-talented. That much is made clear when Frank and Clara invite him to play some of the songs he claims to have written. To say that the bucket emerges empty from the well would be an understatement. But as Jon devotes his energy to posting surreptitious footage of the band on YouTube, and boosting his own Twitter following, his interests begin to diverge starkly from those of Frank and The Soronprfbs. Jon is commerce; Frank is art, perhaps even genius. The film is binary in its insistence that the two are unhappy bedfellows.

Jon may be a dope but he is a dangerous one, at least in this context, much like the budding young editor in Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art (1998) who exploits the legendary, washed-up photographer with whom she starts an affair. Not only is Jon devoid of talent or originality, he is an actively negative, compromising influence on Frank. It was brave of Ronson to write his own onscreen surrogate as the villain of the piece, albeit an unacknowledged and inadvertent one. Braver still of the film to argue that the rest of us will never understand what it’s like to be a genius, so we may as well stop trying to prise open the damaged heads of our heroes.

Film of the Week: Frank | Film Comment  Jonathan Romney, August 7, 2014              

Frank Sidebottom started life as a punk-generation songwriter and musician from Manchester, named Chris Sievey. Under his own name, Sievey had a number of minor successes with his band The Freshies (notably a brisk, Buzzcocks-y number called “I’m In Love With The Girl On The Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-Out Desk”), but in 1984, he devised one of the more bizarre self-reinventions in pop history. He donned a big painted papier-mâché head, and, adopting a high-pitched nasal Northern accent, assumed the role of Frank Sidebottom, an affable, childlike would-be showbiz personality whose knowingly rudimentary songs parodied current pop or hymned his home village of Timperley. In his Sidebottom guise, Sievey had a few droll ideas—not least an EP entitled Frank Sidebottom Salutes The Magic Of Freddie Mercury And Queen And Also Kylie Minogue (You Know, Her Off ‘Neighbours’)—and even achieved some degree of success as an oddball novelty act on British TV. He certainly had a talent as a conceptual or performance artist—one of Sievey’s peculiarities was that he would often keep the Frank head on, and keep up the Frank act, when there was no public to impress, but only members of his band present. And according to journalist-author Jon Ronson, who was at one time his keyboard player, Sievey/Sidebottom had a special talent for calamity, relishing commercial failure rather than success, which he never went out of his way to cultivate.

When Sievey died of cancer in 2010, some admirers hailed him as a genius, but it’s probably fairer to say that he was a sometimes inspired English eccentric and humorist who managed to make one cheap and cheerful gag work reasonably well for a surprisingly long time. But Sidebottom as an undiscovered god of alternative rock? That’s the unlikely conceit imagined in Frank, a new film opening next week, directed by Lenny Abrahamson (What Richard Did, 12; Garage, 07) and co-written by Ronson and Peter Straughan. Frank is not the Chris Sievey story, and doesn’t claim to be, but it is, after a fashion, the story of Ronson’s brief career as keyboard player (before he came to write extended essays in gonzo investigation such as “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” filmed by George Clooney in 2009).

The Ronson figure in Frank is Jon (Domhnall Gleeson, hugely likeable here), a young aspiring songwriter who spends his days ineptly attempting to cobble together ballads while staring at his computer screen in a dull office job (shades of Quadrophenia, decades on). Then a bunch of madcap bohemians come tumbling out of a van in his seaside town, and it turns out that a band unpronounceably named Soronprfbs, playing in town that night, need a new keyboard player. Jon answers yes to the question “You play C, F, and G?” and lands the gig (by all accounts, Ronson got his job with Sidebottom on the strength of pretty much those qualifications).

Before long, Jon is a fixture in the band, or rather the cult, since Soronprfbs are in the thrall of their mysterious, taciturn leader, Frank (Michael Fassbender), a man who wears a big globe head that almost exactly resembles Sidebottom’s—and never takes it off. That Frank’s Frank is not quite Sievey’s is apparent in the fact that this Frank is no kind of joker, but a very earnest and apparently disturbed Dada master who for a long time doesn’t speak at all—and who, when he’s at last heard singing, bursts into a rather butch agonized basso suggestive of Jim Morrison in one of his self-conscious poète maudit moments.

The extended joke of Frank is the notion, which everyone except us viewers buys into, that Frank is a deep magus whose guidance will lead his collaborators to find their “farthest corners” and make the great album that they have in them. Fame? That’s not so important, except for the more mundane-minded Jon; for his bandmates, the very idea of having an audience at all seems anathema, the worst kind of bourgeois capitulation.

The subsequent story follows Soronprfbs from their retreat in the Irish countryside, where Frank puts them through a program of character-building exercises and ramshackle rehearsals; through a trip across the Atlantic to SXSW, where Jon does the unthinkable in trying to muster public interest; and to Frank’s breakdown and beyond. At that point, Jon takes a break to ask himself some serious questions, while the other musicians reach an unexpected apotheosis: without Frank’s mania and Jon’s earnest competence, they actually sound like the Cowboy Junkies, only quieter, which is not a bad thing at all (their big moody super-slow number is actually “On Top of Old Smokey”). Overall, the narrative drifts like a mildly febrile dream—and it may be that an intense period spent in an unsuccessful band is indeed like a hallucination that abruptly ends, leaving you back in your day job, or in rehab, wondering where all the time and all your talent went.

With gentle wit, the film explores two key ideas. One is that it’s never fun to be the straight person in a band—the sensible, studious type who turns up for rehearsals, works hard on the chord changes, and assiduously posts rehearsal footage online to further the band’s career. It’s this behavior that earns Jon the contempt of his colleagues, who are either deranged social outsiders or work very hard at seeming that way (as quite a few rock musicians do, I’m told). Especially thorny is synthesizer player Clara—“Stay away from my fucking theremin!”—played by Maggie Gyllenhaal with a permanently enraged glare and all the sourness of a natural underground aristocrat who never got over being dropped by 4AD after one single.

The film’s other key idea is that we’re all fascinated by, and somewhat cowed by, the figure of the outsider rock genius, the exalted loser who heroically turns obscurity, failure, and possibly ineptitude into something glorious. We’re constantly hearing in the film that Frank is a creative maestro, though there’s little evidence to back this up; the band he’s assembled sounds pretty ropy as they crunch out their mix of stoner prog and indie thrash, and it’s hard to believe, as he intones his trippy divagations (“Screeching frequencies of pulsing infinity!”), that even his most impressionable acolytes are buying into this. The sheer inadequacy of Soronprfbs’ repertoire is one of the film’s running jokes, largely at the expense of Jon, who—despite being saner than anyone else—is more enthused than anyone (“I can’t wait to dive into the creative maelstrom!”). Yet every now and then, the film tries to persuade us that maybe, just maybe… For example, Frank manages to charm an irate German tourist—in fluent German—and before long, she’s thanking him for “this new truth in my soul.”

Not only do certain members of the band have histories of mental illness, but Frank’s refusal to remove his painted head is a pathological symptom. Jon, of course, is in awe: “Miserable childhood… Mental illness… Where do I find that sort of inspiration?” But the film pretty thoroughly defuses the myth of madness as a fount of poetic insight, and, along with it, the convention of the melodramatic, all-explaining backstory. “What happened to Frank?” Jon earnestly asks the singer’s father. “Nothing happened to him,” comes the reply. “He’s got a mental illness.”

The sad truth that Frank illuminates is that mental illness in artists can indeed be inspiring—but most often for those onlookers who relish the spectacular chaos of someone else’s life without themselves having to endure the pain. You can read the film’s Frank as mirroring any one of a long line of variously talented musical burnouts, drug casualties, mental patients, or would-be gurus (Syd Barrett, Skip Spence, Roky Erickson, Daniel Johnston, Wild Man Fischer, even that notorious failed folkie Charles Manson), or as having elements of the erratic but genuinely individual outsider figures who managed to sustain long-term careers, like Mark E. Smith, Captain Beefheart, Lee Perry, and Kevin Rowland (whose brief spell in a very unflattering dress may have inspired Frank’s SXSW appearance here). It’s through Jon’s naïvely trusting eyes, and his eventual disillusionment, that we get a chance to measure Frank against such fabled characters, and to find him—and the mad genius myth—wanting or otherwise.

In the end, Frank is revealed to be a middle-aged American with the face of Michael Fassbender (whom, as it happens, Chris Sievey did faintly resemble). And Frank does get a proper moment of glory, one that suggests that maybe Soronprfbs had a decent record in them after all—a thudding neo-psychedelic dirge called “I Love You All.”

Frank is directed with a light touch and few frills (apart from the odd on-screen tweet) by Abrahamson, an Irish filmmaker whose last film What Richard Did was a chillier, tougher dissection of a certain circle of privileged Dublin youth. Despite Irish Film Board funding and Irish stars Fassbender and Gleeson (the latter playing a nerdy English boy), Frank comes across much more like a British film (it was made under the Film 4 banner), with the attendant tendency to be somewhat flip and reassuring and to have some sort of transatlantic “relatability”—hence its American characters and U.S.-set final act. That’s to say that Frank the movie is a little more confused about its own identity than Frank the character. Still, it’s a rare film that gets the phenomenon of rock outsiderdom, and gets it right, but isn’t swayed by the mystique. It’s sweet, just pithy enough, and brings a touch of critical sanity to the question of insanity as performance—it’s a film that, you might say, has its head screwed on right.

Michael Fassbender in Frank, reviewed. - Slate  Dana Stevens

 

Frank / The Dissolve  Noel Murray

 

The Film Corner [Greg Klymkiw - BLU-RAY/DVD]  also seen here:  Film Corner, The [Greg Klymkiw]

 

Public Transportation Snob [Dan Heaton]

 

In Review Online [Drew Hunt]

 

Slant Magazine [R. Kurt Osenlund]

 

PopMatters [Jesse Hassenger]

 

Review: Terrific And Sublime 'Frank' Starring Michael Fas ...  Rodrigo Perez from The Playlist

 

ICPlaces [Chris Knipp]

 

The Film Stage [Jordan Raup]

 

The Steve Pulaski Message Board [Steve Pulaski]

 

Confessions of a Film Critic [John Maguire]

 

Surrender to the Void [Steven Flores]

 

theartsdesk.com [Kieron Tyler]

 

The Lumière Reader [Jacob Powell]

 

Sound on Sight [Lane Scarberry]

 

Film.com [William Goss]

 

Little White Lies [Adam Woodward]

 

'Frank' Is the Only Movie Brave Enough or Stupid ... - Pajiba  Dustin Rowles

 

Review: Michael Fassbender's performance anchors ... - HitFix  Drew McWeeny

 

Review: Michael Fassbender loses his head in ... - HitFix  Guy Lodge

 

Rio Rancho Film Reviews *potentially offensive*  Ricky Roma

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Film Racket [Mike McGranahan]

 

Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray - Region A) [Michael Reuben]

 

Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray - Region B) [Dr. Svet Atanasov]

 

DVD Verdict (Blu-ray) [Clark Douglas]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Sound On Sight [Josh Slater-Williams]

 

Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]

 

1NFLUX Magazine [Martin Hafer]

 

FRANK Movie Review: A Big, Beautiful Fake Head | Badass ...  Devin Faraci from Badass Digest

 

Movie Mezzanine [Kevin Ketchum]

 

SBS Movies [Peter Galvin]

 

PlumeNoire.com [Fred Thom]

 

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]

 

Spectrum Culture [Alex Peterson]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Angus Wolfe Murray]

 

To make Frank, director Lenny Abrahamson entered a rock 'n'  Sam Adams interview with the director from The Dissolve, August 18, 2014

 

Frank: Sundance Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy

 

Film Review: 'Frank' - Variety  Peter Debruge

 

Examiner.com [Chris Sawin]

 

Examiner.com [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson]

 

'Frank' movie review - Washington Post  Ann Hornaday

 

Charleston City Paper [T. Meek]

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]

 

Alibi.com [Devin D. O'Leary]

 

Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]

 

Review: 'Frank' - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan 

 

Frank Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert  Brian Tallerico

 

'Frank,' About an Offbeat Band and Its Eccentric Leader ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times

 

What is Outsider Art? | Raw Vision Magazine

 

The 13 Most Amazing Outsider Artists of All Time – Flavorwire  Paul Laster, August 24, 2011

 

FRANK TO SCREEN AT SXSW FESTIVAL » Element Pictures 

 

Outsider art - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Chris Sievey - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

ROOM                                                                        B+                   92

Ireland  Canada  (118 mi)  2015)            Official site

 

One of the most devastating films you could possibly see, not at all easy to endure, leaving viewers emotionally drained and exhausted afterwards, though in the process making the appalling subject matter feel like essential viewing.   Based on a 2010 novel by the same name from Emma Donoghue, who also provided the screenplay, ROOM is a fictionalized recreation seemingly inspired by real life sexual imprisonment cases like Josef Fritzl who kept his own daughter imprisoned in a hidden cellar for 24-years, sexually abusing her the entire time, or Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne, all survivors of the worst abduction cases imaginable.  A follow up to Abrahamson’s uniquely compelling 2014 Top Ten List #10 Frank , whose expertise appears to be examining the lives of damaged souls, it doesn’t take long to figure out what we’re dealing with is a trapped existence, as the world onscreen identified as “Room” is a windowless 10-by-10 foot space with a skylight above that is too high to reach.  Inside are a mother and child, with Brie Larson from Short Term 12 (2013) as Ma trying to make life as normal as possible for her young 4-year old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who has lived his entire life here.  What’s immediately distinctive is the discovery that this world is seen through young Jack’s eyes, providing his own voiceover narration, where this is all he knows, where he’s learned to tell the difference between life in Room and life on television, which is an invented reality, but he has no conception whatsoever of a world outside.  With his long hair below the shoulders that constantly gets in his face, the film immerses us in his mood shifts and daily routines, peppering his mom with incessant questions all day while they do morning exercises, making him run back and forth from one side to the other, play games together, sing songs, share a bath, eat rather common meals that Jack grows tired of from time to time, while Ma reads him bedtime stories like The Count of Monte Cristo (which deals with a prison escape) that challenge his imagination.  Initially it’s all about establishing the monotonous, unglamorized details of their ordinary existence, where each night Jack says goodnight to his bed, toilet, closet, sink, table, chair, all the things he’s intimately familiar with, and in doing so, provides the extent of this claustrophobic, closed-in world.  It’s heart wrenching to see how Ma has spent every ounce of her energy teaching, nurturing, and entertaining this child who loves to watch Dora the Explorer on TV, limiting the time glued in front of the screen as otherwise they would both end up zombies, though occasionally she’s too depressed to even get out of bed in the morning and can spend hours sometimes simply staring out into space at nothing at all. 

 

In the evenings, Jack sleeps in the cupboard behind wood shutters as Ma is visited by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the one who kidnapped her 7-years ago when she was only 19, who opens a steel fortified door locked by an electronic security code, replenishing their meager food and supplies before forcing himself on her at will while continually reminding her how grateful she should be for what little he does bring, constantly complaining of their added “expense,” as he’s out of work, growing violently irritable and quick-tempered if she actually asks for anything they may need.  Sometimes Jack can be seen counting numbers until he leaves, at which point Ma moves him back to the regular double bed where they sleep.  For his 5th birthday, they make a small cake together, but he’s disappointed there are no candles, growing frustrated and temperamental at times, but what’s explicitly clear is they each give one another a reason to live.  Now that he’s older, she tries to expand the world inside to include the one outside, describing bits and pieces of her childhood for him, but he can’t even imagine what’s on the other side of the walls, as he’s never seen it, where the only outside images come from the television.  When the electric power is turned off, she grows more desperate, forced to eat out of cans where frost can be seen on their breath, so she teaches him how to wiggle out of being trapped inside a rolled-up carpet, writing him a note to hand to someone, explaining what to do once he’s finally on the outside, using him for her planned escape.  From the slowed down pace where there was all the time in the world, like their bath when they were splashing water on each other, this rapidly accelerating pace adds a different dimension, creating increasing tension and dread, as Jack is obviously afraid and doesn’t really understand, where she wraps him in the carpet for old Nick’s next visit, claiming he died during the power outage and needs a proper burial, telling him to find someplace nice, where there’s plenty of trees around, growing hysterical at the mere thought of him inspecting the merchandise, screaming to get him out at once, as she can’t stand the sight, leaving her behind in a shivering state of uncontrolled fear.   

 

Once outside, Jack’s perspective is shown through oblique and distorted angles, becoming an expression of confusion as he’s thrown into the back of a pickup truck, shown from an aerial view as he tries to wiggle out, replaying his mother’s instructions in his head, told not to jump until the truck comes to a stop and then run towards the first person he can find.  But when he’s finally outside, seeing the expanse of the blue sky above, it’s a spectacular moment of complete and utter incomprehension, impossible to even imagine, like waking up on another planet.  It’s a rare cinematic moment, as it should be filled with wonder and rapturous joy, but he’s driven instead by an insane fear that is crippling and paralyzing, as he can’t control where he is and what he’s doing, as every time he tries to run, he stumbles and falls, allowing an angrily pissed off Old Nick to grab him and snatch the note out of his hand, trying to drag him back to the truck, where Jack’s voice fails him as well, as he can’t cry out, but a guy walking his dog just happens to be there witnessing this odd spectacle, where the barking dog appears to spook Nick, who also runs away in fear, leaving a befuddled kid behind who can’t explain where he lives.  It was a risky plan that surprisingly worked, where a kindly female police officer is called onto the scene to try to sort things out, where Jack remains a ball of confusion in exasperated turmoil, unable to comprehend what he sees, where nothing makes sense to him.  Somehow, Officer Parker (Amanda Brugel) is able to decode Jack’s nearly indecipherable comments, turning into a more recognizable rescue scene, where Jack and his panicked mother remain in a state of shock, transported to a hospital room that may as well be a completely made up world.  The rest is harder to convey, where Ma’s name ironically is Joy, as she just wants to be reunited with her family, though the medical staff recommends a transitionary period of adjustment, but they are whisked off instead to a new house somewhere in front of a throng of well-wishers and television cameras swarming out front, creating an utter spectacle that they’re not ready for just yet.  While Joy guts it out, trying to remain a strong presence, she discovers her own parents are divorced, Joan Allen and William H. Macy, that they don’t live together anymore, instead Grandma is living with a new friend Leo (Tom McCamus), all of which scares the living bejesus out of Jack. 

 

In something of a surprise, the narrative is extended beyond the rescue, where there is obviously more “behind” the story that the public rarely sees, where there are no easy roads to travel, as instead it’s a mish mosh of guilt, blame, wrong turns and recriminations, not to mention constantly adjusted expectations, where the extraordinary patience displayed by the calmness of the grandparents is in stark contrast to the tumultuous mood swings of Joy and Jack, whose behavior couldn’t be more inconsistent, both likely even more seriously traumatized than the film suggests, which may be the only serious flaw in making this material accessible to the public.  Overly timid and uncommunicative, where men in particular are an intimidating threat, Jack adapts quicker than his mother, where he learns to appreciate the kindness and helpful nature of his grandparents, who offer some of the more tender moments in the film.  Joy, on the other hand, is goaded into doing a misguided television interview for a big wad of badly needed cash, feeling the need for financial independence and not be so dependent on others, but she’s ill-equipped for the consequences, where she’s more in denial than ever about her own emotional fragility, unable to make sense of her parent’s split and the emotional distance that has come between them, wrongly blaming herself, feeling worthless and overly guilty for allowing what happened in the first place, as if it’s her fault, seeing herself more as an abject failure, where now that Jack’s found the helping hand of others, she’s not really needed anymore, going on a downward spiral where at some point she simply collapses, requiring extensive hospitalization, where Jack for the first time in his life must fend for himself without her.  It’s a portrait of unbearable sadness, where outside the Room there is so much space to fill, where both are overcome by the vastness of it all that literally overwhelms them with a crushing force they can’t hold off, where it seems there are too few therapists present, as this should be a standard part of the recovery process, but they’re expected to carry the weight of the world on their own.  While we are witness to really standout performances throughout, there’s a beautifully poignant reunification scene between the mother and son when Jack expresses an interest in returning to the Room, where he misses it.  Under police presence, surrounded by evidence tape, it’s hard for Jack to believe that this cramped, miniscule box was his entire universe for the first years of his life, where he remembers it as being so much more, but gone are all the drawings and personal attachments that made it feel like home, where all that’s left is a starkly barren storage shed that has been emptied of all its contents, where silently, under cover of a softly falling snow, they hold hands and walk into the uncertain future together.    

 

TIFF 2015 | Room (Lenny Abrahamson, Ireland/Canada ...  Angela Murreda from Cinema Scope

The first thing a reader of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room will notice about Lenny Abrahamson’s mostly sturdy adaptation is a problem of perspective. The impressionistic early montage of mundane objects (a sink and a toilet, which soon become known to us as the talismanic idols Sink and Toilet) quickly gives way to a close-up of the person perceiving them, a 5-year-old boy named Jack (Jacob Tremblay) who narrates the harrowing events of Donoghue’s book in his untrained voice. For an adaptation of a novel distinguished precisely by its hermetically sealed worldview—that of a child born and raised in a small shed, where he and his kidnapped Ma (Brie Larson) live all their days—that omniscient look at Jack seems a cheat—a way to pre-emptively “open up” a text that is claustrophobic by design. Yet Abrahamson’s decision might well be the right one, given the intermittent stiltedness of Jack’s wonder-struck narration (which is transposed from the novel, a bit too faithfully, by Donoghue herself): the naively poetic quality of Jack’s musings, which sound like Terrence Malick by way of the Cat in the Hat, don’t square so well with the adolescent Tremblay’s otherwise nuanced performance.

Once Jack and Ma escape the homely prison of Ma’s captor and rapist Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), Room becomes more Abrahamson’s than Donoghue’s, and the film is all the better for it, ripening into a compelling if at times overly literal bildungsroman about the ways in which space and time shape people. It’s to Abrahamson’s credit (as well as to Ethan Tobman and Michelle Lannon’s finely tuned production design) that the eponymous Room and the pair’s subsequent, suffocatingly huge adoptive home genuinely feel like the separate planets that Jack initially assumes they are, capable of fostering and poisoning very different kinds of life. It goes without saying that Larson, an alert performer who hasn’t yet found a vehicle completely worthy of her, gives a fine performance while silently co-directing her young screen partner in the film’s symbiotic first act. But the most interesting thread of the film belongs to Tremblay and Joan Allen, who plays Jack’s grandmother and effective guardian once the outside world proves too much for Ma: their tentative, mostly wordless exchanges cut through the novel’s sometimes obnoxious nods to Joyce and Woolf, and nudge the film toward a more sensitive and convincing portrait of recovery.

Room (2015), directed by Lenny Abrahamson | Movie review  David Ehrlich from Time Out

Brie Larson turns in a harrowing performance as a mother abducted and trapped in a tiny space for years.

Room is a fitting title for director Lenny Abrahamson’s potent and sensitive film about two characters who spend precious years of their lives trapped in one. But Room is also cruel shorthand for a story about two characters who aren’t afforded any. That one word expresses the grand sum of their shared universe, while also intimating the wide spectrum of the things they’ve been deprived. That duality extends to the eponymous box itself, a decrepit lawn shed serving as both prison and unlikely paradise for the mother and child locked inside.

The full picture emerges slowly, details arriving like the droplets of rain that dribble onto Room’s solitary skylight. But it’s clear from the start that Joy (Brie Larson) and her preteen son, Jack (the eerily intuitive Jacob Tremblay), are forcibly confined within the gray concrete walls of their grim enclosure. For exercise, Jack tumbles back and forth between two walls. For food, a man referred to as Old Nick delivers the essentials when he slips inside to rape Joy. For sanity, Joy tells her son that "room" is all that separates them from the infinity of outer space, and for survival she’ll eventually begin to teach him the truth. (If you want to experience the film without a more explicit indication of what happens next, stop reading here.)

Their inevitable escape makes for a harrowing sequence that exemplifies both the best of Larson’s raw-nerve performance and the worst of Abrahamson’s technique, which erratically fumbles between zooms and slow motion in its failure to match the primal anguish that flashes on his actor's face. But Room only blossoms into something special after it explodes into the vastness of the world beyond. Faithfully adapted from Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel of the same name, the film reveals its layers when Joy is reunited with her stunned parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy), who divorced in the wake of her abduction. Forced to resume her role as a daughter, Joy is powerless to reconcile the needle skip of returning to real life with the challenge of introducing her son to it, and Larson’s ability to articulate the excruciating limbo of being suspended between two generations is a thing to behold. Feral and maternal (often at the same time), she inextricably knots the petulance of being a child with the responsibility of raising one. 

If Abrahamson were as gifted with a camera as he was with his cast (he inspires subtlety even from the tiny Tremblay), Room could have been truly worthy of the astonishing performances that provide its foundation. As it stands, the film is still a heartrending exploration of the worlds that parents create with their kids, the devastation that arises when those mountains move, and the ineffable fulfillment that results from climbing the peaks together.

Movie Review: In 'Room,' Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay ...  Sophie Gilbert from The Atlantic

It’s hard to think of a movie adaptation of a book that feels truer and more loyal to its source than Room. In part, that’s thanks to the precise environment Emma Donoghue crafted in her Orange Prize-winning 2010 novel, the majority of which was set in an 11-foot by 11-foot insulated space with a lone skylight. But the book was also narrated in its entirety by a 5-year-old boy, and much of its power and poignancy came from how well Donoghue captured the voice and perspective of such a small child—a much trickier endeavor for film, where childlike naivete and wonder can often become mawkish.

Room’s director, Lenny Abrahamson—whose previous film was the offbeat Frank, starring Michael Fassbender as an eccentric musician who wears a large papier-maché head—navigates the balance with remarkable finesse, working from a screenplay written by Donoghue. The movie opens with Jack (Jacob Tremblay) describing the events of his fifth birthday, and the details of the tiny universe he inhabits, Room. His Ma (Brie Larson), he explains, was alone in Room until he “zoomed down from heaven” to save her.

The agony of Donoghue’s book is in how long it takes to piece together the evidence given Jack’s limited capabilities as an interpreter, but here it’s soon clear that Ma and Jack are prisoners. Their only visitor is Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), who’s keeping them captive, and who rapes Ma while Jack sleeps in the closet.

When Old Nick reveals that he’s lost his job, and might also lose his house, Ma, realizing he will probably kill them both rather than let them escape, begins hatching a plan to set Jack free. In the space of a few days, she tries to teach Jack everything about the outside world—often a logical and philosophical conundrum as much as a practical one, since all he can see of it is empty sky. Room is unmistakably an allegory for the painful process of growing up, and here it’s rendered in rapid time, with Jack stubbornly resisting the puzzling, threatening barrage of new information, and Ma forced to move past his discomfort. Abrahamson suffuses these scenes with fierce suspense, adding urgency to Ma’s lessons in how to understand the world.

Perhaps it’s natural that an adult audience would see the events unfolding much more from Ma’s point of view than Jack’s, but it’s also a testament to Larson’s performance. She’s restrained but tightly coiled, practical and maternal, but also unpredictable. The world that Ma and Jack live in is one that Ma has made to protect and nourish her child as best she can—they exercise in the small space, read, and watch TV only for an hour a day, so it doesn’t “rot our brains,” as Jack explains. With Jack deprived of any social contact, every single item in Room becomes his friend: Wardrobe, Bed, Toilet, Lamp, Egg Snake (which they craft from leftover eggshells and hide under the bed). Tremblay is equally extraordinary in his role, imbuing tiny Jack with natural amounts of charm, courage, wit, and fear.

It’s hard to imagine that such a bleak scenario could be made so beautiful, but Abrahamson finds poetry in the small details of Room, captured through grey filters to emphasize the lack of light. More, though, the film captivates because of its central duo, who are each other’s whole world. As much as the audience empathizes with Jack, and feels his agony at losing what he interprets as a safe and familiar environment, so too they feel Ma’s pain in having to disrupt it.

Room is the kind of drama that feels tailor-made for theater, with its limited locales and emotional intensity. But it’s after Jack finally leaves the space for the first time that the potency of film is most felt—in its ability to express his wonder and confusion and discombobulation at seeing things he’d only experienced through a screen. It’s to Room’s credit that it makes that disorientation so visceral to viewers, communicating the angst and the elation of breaking free.

Movie Review: Room -- Vulture  David Edelstein 

The title of this wrenching film is Room, not to prevent a mix-up with the riot-of-non-sequiturs Z-movie The Room but because its 5-year-old protagonist uses the word as a proper name. Every day, young Jack (Jacob Tremblay) pops out of bed and says, “Good morning, Room,” as well as, “Good morning, Lamp/TV/Sink/Brush,” a Goodnight Moon–like ritual that transforms an approximately ten-by-ten-foot locked space with a distant skylight into something alive, even nurturing. (The room-womb rhyme seems more apt than ever.) What Jack doesn’t understand is that his Ma (Brie Larson) has weaned him on the illusion that their cramped single room with its decrepit furniture — which is all he has ever seen — is the whole world instead of what it is: a prison fashioned by a sexual psychopath who took her seven years earlier.

Room is astonishing: It transmutes a lurid, true-crime situation into a fairy tale in which fairy tales are a source of survival. The Irish-born novelist Emma Donoghue (who also wrote the screenplay) has made a career of reworking such tales, sometimes from an LGBT perspective and generally from a way-outsider’s. In this case, she has merged the imprisoned-damsel motif with something modern and sinister — inspired by the sudden jolt experienced by Felix Fritzl, the youngest child of an Austrian woman held captive by her father for 24 years. (There are similarities to the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping and the abductions of three women by Ariel Castro — although the latter story broke in 2013, three years after Room was published.) Donoghue made the 5-year-old the novel’s narrator, which results in evocatively strange formulations and an occasional flurry of twee. (“We move Table over to beside Bath so we can sunbathe on Rug right under Skylight where it’s extra warm … God’s yellow face makes red through my lids.”) Though the movie drops most of the narration, the point comes through: By reading to him, telling him stories, and encouraging him to write and draw his own, Ma has kept Jack’s mind alive. The hair he has never cut is his “Strong.” He is like Samson.

Donoghue has found the perfect complementary collaborator in fellow Hibernian Lenny Abrahamson, whose last film, Frank, was a sad comedy in which the longing for connection is offset by the dread of it. (The title character thrives in a rock-band commune — but only because he hides under a giant fake head.) Abrahamson and his two main actors create a seesaw of love and horror that upends you on all sorts of levels. “Room” is a paradisiacal bubble — a marvel of mother-child intimacy, of mind over matter — astride an abyss, broken by visits from the Devil himself.

Abrahamson keeps the rapes committed by the man Ma calls “Old Nick” (Sean Bridgers) offscreen or viewed hazily through cracks in the wardrobe where the boy is sent to sleep. (The only concession her captor accepts is that he won’t see or touch his son.) But we sense the impact of this tyrant in the bruises on Ma; the scarcity of food (he has been unemployed for six months); and acts of pure cruelty, like turning off the power (and heat) for two days after an altercation. Abrahamson knows when to open up the space — creating a sense of expansiveness — and when to bring the camera so close that even this most sacred of relationships chafes. The movie’s lone flaw is a score heavy on childlike wonder, meant as a counterpoint to this purgatory but too shimmering and piano-plinky, cuing the audience how to feel.

It would be wrong to reveal the midpoint climax, which didn’t literally stop my heart but made me wish I had some nitroglycerin tablets just in case. The second half of Room brings out all the irreconcilables. The world outside has infinite space but limited warmth, including a house (wittily designed by Ethan Tobman) that demonstrates the sibling-closeness of affluence and alienation. Fine as young Tremblay is in his early scenes, it’s the later, more difficult ones that show his range, his ability to suggest profound dislocation with every step. And I don’t know how to do justice to Brie Larson. Every time you see her, you forget you’ve seen her before. Her Ma achieves an easy rapport with her son by a force of will, but with everyone else, including herself, her rhythms are off — unyielding, prickly. The clashing emotions she suggests in her final words — two syllables, mouthed but silent — make me shiver even now.

The evil depicted in Room is hard to fathom, but the good is even more mysterious: the capacity of a child — when guarded by a loving parent — to project warmth onto the coldest, most malevolent environment. We’ve seen survival stories featuring people on desert islands or at sea, but it’s the boy sustained by a room that’s the most amazing.

Critic After Dark [Noel Vera]

 

Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]

 

Room, reviewed: The movie adaptation of Emma ...  Dana Stevens from Slate

 

PopMatters [Chris Barsanti]

 

Strong as Hell: 'Room' Is a Stellar Drama of a Woman ... - Village Voice  Amy Nicholson from The Village Voice

 

Room · Film Review An imprisoned mother and child adjust ...  Noel Murray from The Onion A.V. Club 

 

Flavorwire [Jason Bailey]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Owen Van Spall]

 

Reel Georgia [Ali Coad]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Walter Chaw]   calling it the tearjerker version of a badly-tuned slasher flick

 

Review: Lenny Abrahamson's 'Room' | Vague Visages  Dylan Moses Griffin

 

Aisle Seat [Mike McGranaghan]

 

Telluride Review: Lenny Abrahamson's 'Room' Starring Brie ...  Rodrigo Perez from The Playlist

 

Reelviews.net [James Berardinelli]

 

iNFLUX Magazine [Steve Pulaski]

 

Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]

 

Room review: the staggering power of horror and hope | The Verge  Bryan Bishop

 

Movie Shark Deblore [Debbie Lynn Elias]

 

Film Racket [Jason McKiernan]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

The Film Stage [Jordan Raup]

 

Slant Magazine [Elise Nakhnikian]

 

Can't Stop the Movies [Andrew Hathaway]

 

The History of the Academy Awards: Best Picture - 2015 [Erik Beck]

 

DVDTalk.com [Jeff Nelson]

 

DVD Talk [Oktay Ege Kozak]

 

DVDizzy.com [Luke Bonanno]

 

Room - QNetwork Entertainment Portal  James Kendrick

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Blu-ray.com [Jeffrey Kauffman]

 

DVDizzy.com - Blu-ray [Luke Bonanno]

 

AVForums - Blu-ray [Cas Harlow]

 

Home Theater Info Blu-ray/DVD [Douglas MacLean]

 

DoBlu.com Blu-ray [Matt Paprocki]

 

The Kim Newman Website (Kim Newman)

 

Alt Film Guide [Timothy Cogshell]

 

Cinema365 [Carlos deVillalvilla]

 

Cinemixtape [J. Olson]

 

NPR [Andrew Lapin]

 

INFLUX Magazine [Rob Rector]

 

PopOptiq [Lane Scarberry]

 

Room :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste - Paste Magazine  Nick Schager

 

Hannah McHaffie [Hannah McHaffie]  also seen here:  Reel Insights [Hannah McHaffie]

 

Room | ByTowne Cinema  Richard Lawson

 

Twitchfilm.com/Filmfest.ca [Jason Gorber]

 

Digital Journal [Sarah Gopaul]

 

Dog And Wolf [Alexa Dalby]

 

Spectrum Culture [Erica Peplin]

 

Talking Pictures [Howard Schumann]

 

World Socialist Web Site [Joanne Laurier]

 

Cinema Romantico [Nick Prigge]

 

Georgia Straight [Adrian Mack]

 

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Daily | Telluride + Toronto 2015 | Lenny Abrahamson's ROOM  David Hudson from Fandor

 

'Room': Telluride Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy

 

'Room' Review: Brie Larson Stars in Lenny Abrahamson's ...  Justin Chang from Variety

 

Room, film review: Visionary film-making defies ... - The Independent  Geoffrey Macnab

 

Room review - The Telegraph  Tim Robey

 

Room review: Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay escape ...  Nigel M. Smith from The Guardian

 

Room review – to see the world within four walls  Mark Kermode from The Observer

 

The Japan Times [Giovanni Fazio]

 

South China Morning Post [James Mottram]

 

Toronto Film Scene [Andrew Parker]

 

Examiner.com [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson]

 

The Buffalo News [Jeff Simon]

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

Alibi.com [Devin D. O'Leary]

 

Oregon Herald [Oktay Ege Kozak]

 

Review: 'Room' is exhausting, exhilarating and excellent ...  Kenneth Turan from The LA Times

 

L.A. Biz [Annlee Ellingson]

 

Room Movie Review & Film Summary (2015) | Roger Ebert  Susan Wlosczcyna

 

Review: 'Room,' Mother and Child in 100 Square Feet - The New York ...  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times

 

'Room,' an Unlikely Crowd-Pleaser, Creates Oscar Buzz ...  The New York Times

 

Room (2015 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Room (novel) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Room by Emma Donoghue | Book review - The Guardian  Book review by Nicola Barr, July 31, 2010

 

Abrams, J.J.

 

STAR TREK                                                            B                     84

USA   (127 mi)  2009  ‘Scope

 

One aspect of Star Trek that has been missing in the movie versions is an understanding for why the TV show clicked, namely the interrelations between the characters who couldn’t have been more different from one another, where the racial and intergalactic diversity expressed each week literally raised the bar in viewer social awareness.  The show interestingly maintained a healthy dose of personal barbs between the characters that created distinct personalities at work in otherwise cramped, claustrophobic quarters, where from time to time they amusingly got on each others nerves and would take verbal swipes at one another.  Some of the legendary cracks between Medical Officer McCoy raising his suspicions about half Vulcan, half human Spock’s overly rational brain reflecting the side of him that wasn’t human became part of the running dialogue on the ship, and was consistently used not only in the heat of battle but especially in the final few seconds of each show’s epilogue to show that no matter what their differences, all’s well that end’s well, as they survived another adventure together.  That is the one attribute that this Star Trek movie pays particular attention to and it feels like a welcoming home of the characters themselves, as each is once more carefully defined by a certain aspect of their character that is wonderfully appealing.  Add to this an astounding degree of physical resemblance to the original crew that is simply extraordinary.  What’s fun about this version is that it comes before the regular crew of the Starship Enterprise was formed, where each hadn’t yet developed into their now familiar roles.  The back stories, bearing a Smallville Superman, the early years resemblance, offers unique insight, even when it becomes hammy and so deliciously exaggerated to the point of being operatic.  The film does an excellent job pin-pointing and merging the early years for both Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) on their respective planets, one in Iowa, the other on planet Vulcan, also providing an early action sequence that reveals how Kirk’s father was a Starship captain for a mere handful of seconds, yet in a heroic effort saved hundreds of lives in the process, including his wife and newborn. 

 

One of the criticisms of the Star Trek movies overall is their over-reliance on special effects, where they love to show off where so much of the money goes, and this film is no different.  It gets carried away with the same adrenaline rushes that fellow big budget Hollywood director Michael Bay is known for, also supported by wailing voices and plenty of pounding percussion.  The difference here is that the characters are intriguing from the outset.  When Kirk recklessly races cars as a kid or Spock is subjected to relentless torment from fellow Vulcans about his half human side, their personalities are being formed by the way they overcompensate from what’s missing in their lives, Kirk missing a father while Spock’s mother is not Vulcan.  Kirk’s testy fight in the bar sequence and his relentless approach to seducing any and all women he sees is laughably over the top, but who would have thought Spock could be taunted into fisticuffs on his home planet?  There’s a familiar ring to all of this, as Zoë Saldana’s sexy, but warmhearted Uhura is actually romantically partnered with Spock here, not Kirk, amusingly seen giving last minute kisses in the transportation deck.  Karl Urban is drop dead hilarious as Dr. McCoy injecting Kirk with a virus to gain him access to an otherwise off limits Starship, following with a succession of more injections due to his unforeseen symptoms, all while Kirk is challenging a Captain’s decision and making perhaps the biggest decision in his as yet undeveloped career.  John Cho’s fencing expertise as Sulu early on saves Kirk’s life, and Anton Yelchin’s verbal mugging of the English language as the brilliant 17-year old thickly Russian accented Chekov is exquisite.  Simon Pegg as the drink happy Chief Engineer Scott is deliriously happy at discovering transporting can take place at warp speeds, not to mention that he invented the scientific equation.  And Leonard Nimoy makes not just an appearance, but plays a significant role in what this movie is about, that it’s not all accolades and successes of a rewarding career, but life is all about the journey along the way. 

 

One major beef, however, is that it follows of the same formula that big Hollywood productions seem destined to follow, which is to accentuate meaningless battle sequences with plenty of explosions, including innumerable space ships, with objects hurled through space, bodies flying, where death and destruction is a major pattern to follow, as if that’s what holds an audience’s attention.  No doubt for some, that’s the bottom line:  was it exciting?  Eric Bana is really very good as the rogue Romulan outlaw Nero, whose brutal interrogation methods are Neanderthal, but his mind is intensely psychological, scarred himself from losing his own planet.  Little by little the main characters move their way into their familiar positions, predictably overcoming all obstacles.  Unfortunately, this is a male heavy cast with few opportunities other than Uhura and Spock’s mother to even have speaking roles, so for a film that features as one of its goals to lead the way in presenting a diversified view of a utopian future society, they certainly failed in this opportunity.  Very few creatures from other galaxies played any significant role as well, so this was largely seen as the typical white man’s battle to save the universe.  Spock’s performance in particular is impressive, especially because he is so full of doubt while also being the smartest guy in the room, while Kirk is a gung ho thrill seeker from the outset, the guy who routinely takes the greatest risks, yet whose self-centered arrogance is more a trait of actor William Shatner, the original Kirk, whose gargantuan ego preceded him wherever he went, as opposed to Pine who spends most of the film engaged in fights, oftentimes on the losing end, whose first response tendency toward reckless behavior does not exactly bode well for ship morale.  But as a blockbuster action thriller costing $150 million, this at least goes for the tone and charming character references of the original TV series. 

 

Time Out Chicago (Joshua Rothkopf) review [5/6]

Geeks will rev their engines, but the unexpected elegance of director Abrams’s reboot of the franchise comes in its large-scale disavowal of easy nostalgia. Working with screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Abrams has done more than roll back the clock on the original crew of the Enterprise, dewy cadets of Starfleet Academy. The director has also stripped his brisk proceedings of the earlier movies’ glacial pomp. Of course, we recognize these kids: Brash, horndoggish Kirk (Pine, no worse than Shatner), quiet Spock (Quinto, beautifully concentrated), a surly rejecter of patronizing Vulcan schoolmasters; cool-as-ice Sulu (Cho); the 17-year-old whiz kid Chekhov (Yelchin).

Abrams milks Gene Roddenberry’s egalitarianism for all its timeliness; today’s optimistic postracial crew is inconceivable in an alternate political moment. (Yes, they so can.) A galloping, occasionally vertiginous story—involving a black-hole time warp and something do to with planet-consuming “red matter”—has been devised to propel Kirk, a cheater on his exams, into the captain’s chair, as well as keep our minds off the inevitable survival of all involved. Eric Bana, capable of delicious menace in Chopper, has less to work with as an underwritten Romulan warlord in a dark cape; you wish the script found a way to refresh its antagonists. But certain plot developments produce a real jolt, like an Uhura kiss too good to spoil and a hurled insult from Bones that pushes fidelity perversely close to profanity: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?” Directorially speaking, Abrams has, without doubt, boldly gone where no one has gone before—you should, too.

Cinepassion.org [Fernando F. Croce]

While not exactly a Trekkie, I've always preferred Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic humanism to George Lucas’s puppet space-operas. Like the recent Batman epics (and minus their strained seriousness, thankfully), J.J. Abrams' Star Trek aims to revive the spirit that’s dissipated after decades of syndication, sequels, and parodies. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is born in the midst of an intergalactic skirmish that leaves him orphaned; his daddy hang-up lines up nicely with the mommy issues of Spock (Zachary Quinto), his half-Vulcan, half-human rival for command of the Starship Enterprise. The creatures include a Romulan renegade (Eric Bana) with a yen for drilling black holes into planets, a green-skinned hottie (Rachel Nichols), and a giant snow-crustacean quelled by the ravaged gravitas of the Original Cast Member Cameo. Part of me wants a Paul Verhoeven to tear this stuff to tatters, yet I’m heartened to see the wit and romance of the series treated lovingly, and with enough feisty confidence to have Kirk smack his head on the portal as he boards the vessel. Pine is blandly sensual and Quinto satisfactorily poised, but the rest of the Enterprise crew is piquant: Zoe Saldana is sexy and sharp as Uhura (glad somebody paid attention to The Terminal), Karl Urban is delectably splenetic as McCoy ("Ex-wife took the whole damn planet after the divorce"), John Cho is an inspired Sulu, and Simon Pegg (sputtering brogue) and Anton Yelchin (Russkie lilt) endear as Scotty and Chekov. The film’s most remarkable aspect, unfortunately, is its technical incompetence. Abrams doesn’t direct, he just whooshes the camera from side to side and flashes lights in your eyes -- Howard’s hack sprinting in Angels & Demons looks like an old master’s contemplative rhythms next to these toy-ad seizures. There's blood still left in Star Trek; next time get a filmmaker, not a film-shredder.

The Sociology of Star Trek  Mark Harris responding to a May 7th Salon article by Jeff Greenwald comparing Barack Obama to Leonard Nimoy's Spock, from Patrick Murtha’s Diary, May 7, 2009

 

I think that piece is spot on. I too was a first-generation Star Trek fan, and it is only in retrospect that I see clearly how much it shaped my world-view. I do wish Mr. Greenwald had given shout-outs in the essay to Gene Roddenberry -- who maintained a dogged insistence on his startlingly fresh multicultural vision in the face of network indifference and hostility -- and to Nichelle Nichols, whose performance as Lieutenant Uhura undoubtedly had a special significance for Obama as it did for so many African-Americans (and women), from astronaut Mae Jemison to Whoopi Goldberg (later a semi-regular on Star Trek: The Next Generation, of course). Mr. Greenwald does quote Henry Jenkins to the effect that he was formed by Star Trek and Martin Luther King, and it is fascinating to realize that there is an actual linkage between the two: King was a fan of the show and advised Nichols to stay with her as yet not-fully-developed role because of its immense impact ("Once that door is opened by someone, no one can close it again"). I have often thought how cool it would be to be Nichelle Nichols or George Takei and realize that no matter what else happened in my life, I had performed a true social good that could never be erased.

When Star Trek premiered, I was eight years old. The races were seldom mixed on television at all, and on the rare instances when they were, the template was white master, black servant. Along comes this show in which all races freely mixed, cooperated, and were of equal intellectual and ethical stature. The subliminal impact of that on the nation's children, especially as the show developed its cult status in re-runs moving into the Seventies, was incalculably huge. We were being prepared for America's future -- Roddenberry must simply have been one of those people who sees very clearly ahead, but he also helped create what came next. We were being prepared for the possibility of a Barack Obama.

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

There are moments in the furious new Star Trek iteration in which the young actors who play Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest resemble Baby Looney Toons doing old shtick in disconcertingly high voices. Yet there are other, transcendent moments—time-benders. Suddenly, I found myself back in the days when I (and you?) enacted Star Trek in the basement: “Phasers on stun.” “Mr. Scott, we need that warp drive.” “I’m a doctor, not an escalator!” If you care about this universe (and I do, damn it), you won’t sit passively through J.J. Abrams’s restart Trek. You’ll marvel at the smarts and wince at the senselessness. You’ll nitpick it to death and thrill to it anyway.

Because, in the end, what choice is there? The first generation of Trekkers is elderly or gone to that most final of frontiers, the next generation is up in years, and the most memorable thing about the generation after that was the Borg with big breasts whose distaste for sex clubs helped elect Barack Obama. Either we accept this “reboot” or watch The Wrath of Khan for the thirty-eighth time. And Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) have come up with a way to make you dig the souped-up new scenery while pining for the familiar—a good thing. When Kirk gets bumped from the captain’s chair and trades insults with Spock, it’s funny and surprising and wrong wrong wrong. Which is the point. We’re rooting for Abrams to be less original—to give us back our Kirk and Spock.

The gimmick is a black hole, one of those handy time-travel-enabling anomalies with which we sci-fi fans have a love-hate relationship. A spiky black behemoth from the future hurtles through said hole carrying a vengeful Romulan driller-killer called Nero (Eric Bana)—whereupon, presto, history is altered. In this alternate-universe, James T. Kirk’s father is dead, and Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up a daredevil ne’er-do-well. He doesn’t want to go to Starfleet Academy and abide by pesky rules until he’s shamed by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood)—the captain in the series’ first, failed pilot, now reborn as the authority figure who tells Kirk, “If you’re half the man your father was…” Pike defines Starfleet as a “peacekeeping and humanitarian armada”—four of the weightiest words ever spoken in a sci-fi picture. The original Trek gave us mixed-race, sexually active Cold Warriors (it was the Marshall Plan in space, with Klingons standing in for Soviets); the next generation was mostly Clintonesque policy wonks and technocrats (plus an unhappy post-Soviet/Klingon). What political assumptions prop up the newest armada?

Hard to say, since the focus is more on mismatched buddies: Young rule-breaker Kirk and young by-the-book Spock loathe each other on sight and spend much of the film as antagonists. We’re always on Kirk’s side, though. Behind those impudent baby blues, young Pine mugs like mad, but there’s wit in the way he seizes the space: He seems to be both channeling and poking fun at William Shatner’s mighty ego. He leads with his appetites. On the other hand, Zachary Quinto plays the half-Vulcan, half-human Spock as the kind of know-it-all even geeks want to slam into a locker. The problem might be as basic as Quinto’s physiognomy. Where Leonard Nimoy adopted a semi-scrutable (vaguely Eastern) mask, Quinto’s features settle into a sneer. Nimoy’s Spock would tell his colleagues, “I have no feelings to hurt,” and we knew it was a lie because Nimoy’s impassivity was so pregnant. But Quinto’s face telegraphs disdain. He’s Kirk’s competitor—which might be more realistic but which utterly changes the Star Trek dynamic. Kirk is no longer the virile leader trying to find a balance between coolly dispassionate logic (Spock) and urgent humanist emotion (Dr. McCoy). He’s hardly even a plausible leader. (How does he end up in the captain’s chair?) The doggone kids really have seized the Enterprise.

In fairness, it’s too soon to tell where the revamped Star Trek will go, since a lot of this first installment is foreplay: Get ’em grown up (out of Iowa, off Vulcan), get ’em out of school (bring on the final exam—the Kobayashi Maru!), get ’em onboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, and bring on the bad guy and space battles. The fights and photon-torpedoings are rousingly done, and since the self-inflating Shatner famously had scripts rewritten to make the other crew members ciphers, there’s room for actors to bring new stuff to the party. Is she (Zoe Saldana) Uhura? Yowza. Hey, look at that—Starfleet women in boots and miniskirts again! What’s Harold doing on the Enterprise without Kumar? Oh, he’s Sulu! Way to go, John Cho! Is the new Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) actually Russian? That seems odd, somehow. Why does the disheveled hipster McCoy (Karl Urban) talk like Owen Wilson, and would you want him treating your wounds? Is that Winona Ryder as Spock’s mom—with, like, three lines? Who’s this “Olsen” guy parachuting down to disarm the villain’s super-weapon with Kirk and Sulu? Oh, that’s right, he’s the guy who’s going to immediately get killed. (“Olsen is gone, sir.”) Where’s Scotty?

Scotty (the crackerjack comic actor Simon Pegg, of Shaun of the Dead) shows up an hour into the film, some time after Leonard Nimoy delivers the screen’s first exposition-via-mind-meld. That clarifies Nero’s motives, which turn out to be awfully thin. (It’s weird how Star Trek villains think nothing of blowing up planets to avenge their wives.) Nimoy, meanwhile, looks very old and happier than he has in years: He has finally decided he is Spock, and not even Zachary Quinto can deny him. So it’s in with the old and the new, and let’s give this crew another voyage.

PopMatters (Bill Gibron) review

Talk about questionable prospects! Who could ever imagine that Paramount, preservers of Gene Roddenberry’s seminal Star Trek empire, would mount a massive reboot of the series, an attempt in 2009 to turn the fortunes of a forty year old property into something modern and merchandisable. For a while, it looked like Shatner, Nimoy, and the rest would have to rally around the aging nostalgia factor and forge a path more backwards glancing than forward thinking. But the past can’t hold forth in the future forever.

Even with the still popular possibilities of The Next Generation (and to some extent, Deep Space Nine), fans both young and old just can’t get enough of the 1960s series. And with prequels being so plentiful (and usually unsuccessful), going back to the very beginning of Trek would appear tenuous at best. Luckily, studio heads cleared enough to give Lost‘s J.J. Abrams the creative Con - and it’s a good thing too. His Star Trek instantly becomes one of the year’s best films.

Troubled and rebellious as a young boy, James Tiberius Kirk can’t shake the feeling that he was meant for something more. Similarly, Vulcan child Spock has difficulty deciphering his half-human, half-alien feelings. The two end up at Starfleet Academy, where they begin to learn the ways of the United Federation of Planets. Along the way, they pick up some close friends - Kirk and new doctor cadet Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and for Spock, the special affections of communications specialist Uhura.

When a mystery mining vessel carrying the angry Romulan Nero breaks through the neutral zone and attacks Vulcan, Captain Pike pilots the newly christened Enterprise to intercept. On board are Hikaru Sulu and Pavel Chekov, the two latest additions to the crew. Eventually, the Federation learns of the Romulan’s time-travel inspired plan, it’s passion to destroy planets, and it’s particular vendetta with Spock - even though they’ve “technically” never met the young alien…at least, not this version of him.

It’s hard to express in mere words how wonderful J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot is, especially for a worn in the wool die-hard Trek head like yours truly. It’s a silly, grinning from ear to ear experience, a ‘wow’ that works overtime to keep from ever letting you down. From the moment we learn of our heroes’ hamstrung youth, to the final confrontation that will define their legacy for star dates to come, there is a reverence and a revitalization that finally turns Trek into everything founder Roddenberry - and his throngs of devotees - hoped for.

This is more than just a ‘remake’ or a ‘reimagining’. This is brilliant filmmaking artistry filtered through a deep appreciation for what Star Trek stands for, for the years it held the lantern for serious science fiction while other efforts traveled toward the ‘dark side’ of action adventure commerciality. Granted, Abrams pours on the thrills, but he doesn’t cheapen the mythology that made Kirk and company true cultural icons.

This is a movie that performs remarkably well on all levels - as an introduction to the seminal characters for newbies, a welcome return visit to younger versions of old friends, a highly sophisticated mainstream entertainment, a rock ‘em sock ‘em effects spectacle, and a reminder that ideas can be just as exciting and interesting as images. Abrams, working from an excellent script by frequent collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, takes his time with each element, letting information and concepts sink in before rapidly and rationally moving on.

The opening battle, which we catch more or less in mid-strategy, instantly encases us in the world we are about to enter. It also sets the emotional tone. By the time an underage Kirk runs his step-dad’s classic car up to (and over) the edge of a nearby ravine, we are ready to go anywhere with this story - and Abrams takes us there, both outside the characters and inside their deepest fears.

This is a true origin story, the kind which doesn’t skimp on the painful parts. Both Kirk and Spock are seen as deeply hurt by their childhood circumstance. It is a realistic foundation which explains a great deal of their later relationship. Similarly, we understand the motives of Uhura and McCoy, each one taking up defense for their friend. As actors, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are so note-perfect as our Trek titans that we often wonder if we are viewing Shatner and Nimoy through some kind of age-defying prism.

Also excellent are Zoe Saldana, John Cho, and in a last act appearance that’s a tad too brief, a wonderful Simon Pegg as everyone’s favorite “beamer” Scotty. Of particular note is Karl Urban. About a billion light years from Middle Earth (where he was Eomer), his McCoy is so delicious dead-on, so absolutely channeling the spirit and spunk of DeForest Kelly that he almost steals the film from everyone else.

But it’s Eric Bana who brings it all together. His villain with a heart hellbent on revenge is not some ridiculous raving psychopath. Instead, he’s someone who literally lost everything, and is determined to make those who he believes responsible pay in the exact same way. This leads to Trek‘s biggest surprise - the sheer scope and size of the threat. When we first realize what’s about to happen to one of the series well known places, the shock is matched only by the sensation of seeing it play out powerfully on the big screen. Star Trek is the very definition of a blockbuster, a larger than life experience that has to be seen theatrically to be fully appreciated. This is as epic an entertainment as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, the original Star Wars, and Christopher Nolan’s operatic Dark Knight.

Once again, long time Trekkies (or Trekkers), have no fear. No one has raped your memories this time around. If anything, Abrams has acknowledged and acquiesced to them, giving your love of the original series as much care and consideration as you do. And those unfamiliar with the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, you too should feel unafraid. Accessibility is the key here, the movie made so stunning in its ability to hook you and keep you happy that you’ll soon forget your four decades outside the obsessive Trek fray.

For all others in between, heed this advice - Star Trek is destined to be remembered as one of 2009’s biggest and best surprises, a gamble that beat both the house and those holding the cards to turn everyone into a winner. This is the reason why movies are magic. This is why some of us fell in love with the original series in the first place. Bless you J. J. Abrams. May you live long, and definitely prosper. 

Critic After Dark  Noel Vera

 

Chicago Reader [J.R. Jones]

 

The House Next Door [Simon Abrams]  May 10, 2009

 

The House Next Door [Matt Maul]  May 9, 2009

 

The Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib

 

Obama is Spock: It's quite logical - Barack Obama News - Salon.com  Jeff Greenfeld from Salon, May 7, 2009

 

Asking the Wrong Questions: Trek-Dump  Abigail Nussbaum from Asking the Wrong Questions, May 15, 2009

 

Star Trek (2009)  Adam Roberts from Punkadiddle, May 16, 2009

 

Spockbama and George T. Bush  zunguzungu, May 18, 2009

 

Star Trek: I Love You, Man.  Millicent from Millicent and Carla Fan, May 26, 2009

 

The Underdetermined Death of Uhuru  zunguzungu, June 2, 2009

 

Slant Magazine review  Bill Weber

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

World Socialist Web Site  Hiram Lee

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

DVD Talk - Theatrical [Jamie S. Rich]

 

James Bowman review

 

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Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [2.5/5]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [4/5]

 

Film Freak Central review   Walter Chaw

 

Reel.com review [3.5/4]  Sean O’Connell, also seen here:  filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [4/5]

 

Twitch (Rodney Perkins) review

 

Twitch review  Canfield

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

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Screen International review  Mike Goodridge

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [2/5]

 

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Ferdy on Films, etc.  Roderick Heath

 

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eFilmCritic.com (Jay Seaver) review [5/5]

 

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CBC.ca Arts review  Martin Morrow

 

seanax.com [Sean Axmaker]

 

About.com Hollywood Movies (Rebecca Murray) review [A]

 

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FirstShowing.net (Alex Billington) review [9/10]

 

DVDTalk Theatrical Review [Tyler Foster]

 

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PopMatters (Chris Barsanti) review

 

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [B]

 

3 Black Chicks ("The Diva") review

 

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hoopla.nu review  Stuart and Mark

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

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Eye for Film ("Chris") review [3/5]

 

Entertainment Weekly review [A-]  Owen Gleiberman

 

The Hollywood Reporter review   Ray Bennett 

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Time Out London (Tom Huddleston) review [4/6]

 

Independent.co.uk [Jonathan Romney]

 

Guardian [Peter Bradshaw]

 

Guardian/Observer [Philip French]

 

The Independent review [3/5]

 

The Daily Telegraph (Mark Monahan) review [4/5]

 

The Daily Telegraph (Tim Robey) review [4/5]

 

The Globe and Mail (Liam Lacey) review [3/4]

 

The Boston Phoenix (Jeffrey Gantz) review

 

Boston Globe review [4/4]  Ty Burr 

 

Washington Post (Ann Hornaday) review

 

Austin Chronicle (Marc Savlov) review [4/5]

 

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Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 

SUPER 8                                                                   B                     83

USA  (112 mi)  2011  ‘Scope

 

Much like this director paid tribute to the Star Trek TV era, especially good at catching the various personality traits of the major players, this film pays tribute to the era of Spielberg, including several of his notable movies.  Again, Abrams does some things extremely well, like catch the E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982) innocent mood of the kids who continually hang out together with no adult supervision, eventually tracing the presence of an alien presence in the community while also establishing a great build up of suspense for the horrible presence of an unseen monster in JAWS (1975), not to mention the U.S. military creating a diversionary catastrophe from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) which sends the local community into mass hysteria while covering up their real mission, which remains top secret.  While there is also a shared love for big box-office special effects, like Abrams last film, there is an over-reliance on loud explosions, as if this is the only way to cause adrenaline rushes, yet this kind of destructive mayhem exists throughout the film, led by Noah Emmerich, perennial bad guy who heads the secret Air Force unit, a guy who will stop at nothing in supposedly tracking down public enemy number one, their top secret monster they’ve been keeping under wraps that is suddenly missing and unleashed on the public, refusing to share basic information, even as it destroys communities and ravages the countryside.  Unlike Spielberg, this has a darker menace throughout, as there are constant images of death, demolition, and destruction, where these kids are running through the streets alone trying to avoid getting killed, which is a far cry from being caught by their parents for doing something they’re not allowed.  Like BAMBI (1942), the first Disney film to kill off a helpless fawn’s mother, the audience quickly discovers that Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney with a slight Ralph Macchio resemblance), the lead child’s mother has also been killed, leaving him alone with his distant and self-absorbed father, Kyle Chandler as the Sheriff’s Deputy, a man caught up in the town’s hysteria with no answers to quell the maddening voices. 

 

Set in 1979, the film starts out innocently enough with a group of middle school kids led by Riley Griffiths as Charles, who are trying to make a special effects Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a local film contest, though they feel compelled to strain for greater effects, since 15 and 16-year olds will also be competing.  Sneaking out at night, they meet at the railroad tracks, including the presence of Elle Fanning as Alice, the cute girl that the boys think would never talk with them, surprising them all with her own rebellious streak.  Much like Drew Barrymore in E.T., Fanning is a joy to watch, showing maturity beyond her years, not to mention a charming talent in front of a camera, where despite playing a ghoulish zombie, her beguiling presence unsettles the boys who have been best friends for years.  As if to accentuate this imbalance, they witness a horrible train accident, where a train carrying Air Force top secret materials gets derailed in spectacular fashion, where they each defy death and somehow survive while unknowingly capturing the event on film, making their escape before anyone is detected, vowing to keep it a secret, as they believe something horrible will track down their families.  First animals go missing, then appliances strangely disappear, entire car engines are pulled out of cars before people start mysteriously disappearing as well, including the sheriff, where only weird noises can be heard in the dark before a violent attack of some kind snatches its prey.  This leaves Joe’s father in charge of these strange inexplicable random events, but the military finds his incessant questioning curiously disturbing, as if this was somehow preventing them from carrying out their mission.  Unfortunately the warped world of the adults is an unpleasant contrast to the more stellar ideas and enthusiasm shown by the playfulness of the kids, who inherently trust one another, as opposed to the world of adults where suspicion and the unending use of violence reigns. 

 

Despite the plentiful use of special effects sequences, the best thing in the film is the smaller-world interaction of the kids, whose unique personalities add humor and intrigue to the story, where they’re a close-knit group that draws the audience in with their appeal, led by Joe, who can’t stop thinking about Alice, the real heroine of the story.  It’s impossible, by the way, not to think of Mark Borchardt from Chris Smith’s AMERICAN MOVIE (1999), striving for years to finish his low-budget zombie flick Coven, played entirely by friends and family, which is pretty much what these kids are up to as well.  But when the world around them goes crazy, with people going missing, a military presence taking over the city, and several events witnessed which defy gravity or known science, these kids, perhaps without realizing it at first, feel they are on a mission to save the world, turning this into a Mission Impossible (Abrams directed the 3rd) kind of episode where they are driven to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles, but done with a charming enjoyment and intelligent humor.  What doesn’t work, balanced against this obvious fun, is the unpleasant deviousness of the American military, even resorting to secret arrests and images of torture, all of which defy the efforts of this spirited group, where the American military imposes a larger threat of violence than the actual monster.  Granted, this film reflects the mindset of the culture in the late 70’s, where Watergate, lies about secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia, lies about Generals boosting the number of enemy combatants killed in action in order to justify more troops, and the tortuous end of the Vietnam era did contribute to a general distrust of governmental authority, which included the military.  Still the heavy handed tone of militarism gone wrong, or in the wrong hands, sends this barreling down the wrong track, undermining their own monster special effects with a montage of non-stop military explosions of death and destruction, a whirlwind of exaggerated psychotic mayhem that was never part of the original story, that only detracts from the initial innocent hilarity of making that confounding zombie movie with a cast of overeager kids, and also kills the suspense leading up to the appearance of the monster, who has unfortunately been upstaged by the way over the top, uncalculated madness of humankind.        

 

The Reel Deal [Mark Sells]

 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goonies, E.T. - Steven Spielberg's influence on moviemaking is unmistakable. And for director J.J. Abrams, who grew up fixing Spielberg's old 8-mm films, the student/mentor relationship has finally culminated into Super 8, a nostalgic sci-fi thriller involving a group of teenage friends in small town Lillian, Ohio, who set out to make a zombie movie of their own only to stumble upon an alien event that has the whole town in a frenzy. As savvy filmmakers, the kids use the situation as fodder for their film while curiously investigating alongside Lillian's deputy sheriff (played by Kyle Chandler). And while Super 8 lacks some of the emotional punch and heart so masterfully orchestrated by Spielberg, it does capture some of the magic, surprise, and excitement of his early works. A coming-of-age monster movie for the masses, Super 8 brings the thrill and awe back to the summer Cineplex.

 

Super 8 | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Keith Phipps

For a stretch of the 1980s, there wasn’t enough Steven Spielberg to go around. While continuing to direct a movie every year or two, Spielberg produced films that had the look and feel of Spielberg-by-proxy, films filled with end-of-childhood adventures, suburbs, and small towns that doubled as unexpected sites of wonder or horror. In the best of them, directors like Joe Dante and Robert Zemeckis put their personal stamp on Spielbergian themes while creating popcorn-friendly films to rival their inspiration. Set in the streets, magic-hour-blanketed hills, and cluttered suburban homes of a small Ohio town as the 1970s edge into the ’80s, the J.J. Abrams-scripted-and-directed Super 8—which Spielberg produced—consciously, and successfully, looks back to an era of abundant Spielbergiana.

Joel Courtney leads a cast of talented, mostly unfamiliar kid actors as the middle-school-aged son of Kyle Chandler, a sheriff’s deputy who struggles with the demands of single parenthood after his wife dies in a steel-mill accident. Courtney copes by escaping into a world of models and monster magazines, and fills his free hours making a zombie film with his movie-mad pal Riley Griffiths. Their film progresses nicely, especially after the addition of Elle Fanning as their female lead, even though Chandler blames her father (Ron Eldard) for his wife’s death. Then, filming surreptitiously at an abandoned train station one night, they witness a train derailment that ushers in a series of mysterious happenings that might be explained by events they unwittingly captured on film.

Saying more would spoil Super 8’s carefully cultivated aura of surprise, but suffice it to say that what follows won’t be too surprising to those who have seen the films that lend Super 8 their DNA—Spielberg’s and others. That makes Abrams’ film both welcomingly and frustratingly familiar, and more the latter as it goes along. Abrams has a gift for capturing awe and dread—sometimes both at once—and a less-inspiring command of what to do with it. More troublingly, the film’s emotional elements feel more tacked-on than deeply considered, though the performances help rescue some thinly conceived relationships. (Fanning in particular deserves extra credit on this front.)

That said, of all the filmmakers who have tried to recapture the Spirit Of ’82, nobody has succeeded as well as Abrams does here. Super 8 constructs a believably complicated small-town world, fills it with the right period details (apart from an anachronism here and there), shoots it lushly, gives it a Michael Giacchino score filled with John Williams-isms, then tests its residents’ sense of order, righteousness, and willingness to stand up to authority with a chaotic element that could destroy them. Its pleasures are borrowed, but durable.

SBS Film [Peter Galvin]

 

Already a few critics have jumped on this film, calling it ‘nostalgia porn’. It’s a worthless kind of complaint but it’s kind of easy to understand. It’s the first collaboration between two giants of pop culture: JJ Abrams, who writes and directs, and Steven Spielberg, who here produces. The hype around Super 8 suggests a ‘70s style Spielberg pic with all that that implies – kids, chases, ‘broken homes’, a suburban small town setting, much paranoia and a storyline that swoops and dives across plot lines concerned with military cover ups, teen adventure and What It Takes to Be a Good Father. And yep, every single one of those stylistic tics and story quirks are present and accounted for here. Which is another way of saying this is a big, loud and busy movie. In a way, and I mean this as a compliment, this is one long movie in-joke. Just about every scene is a conscious and loving ‘steal’ from another movie, usually something directed by Spielberg – quotes from E.T. and especially Close Encounters abound, but there’s also riffs on Jaws, Duel, The Sugarland Express and even 1941! If you know these movies, Super 8 plays like a party; it’s like pals and their secret jokes. The plot itself is a parody of Blow Out and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Them! and War of the Worlds via Stand By Me.

What I suspect has given Super 8 an aura of movie ‘cool’ leading up to its release is Abrams. He’s got the best kind of new age sci-fi credentials in Lost and the Star Trek re-boot of 2009. (You could throw in Cloverfield too, the ‘found footage’ chase-‘n’-hide monster from outer space movie he produced in 2008.) He’s a generation younger than Spielberg (the latter is now pushing 70) and his sensibility is different too. His stuff is emotional, but in a different way to Spielberg. He’s got a better feel for comedy than Spielberg and his relationship with the material is more ironic, which makes it less sentimental, and while there’s gee-wiz stuff, scares and action all over Super 8, it’s the comedy that keeps it alive and warm; it saves it from just another exercise in studio summer blockbuster mechanics. What Spielberg and Abrams seem to have in common is not just a love of the movies, but something else that is deeper about the movie making process itself. Anyone who knows anything about Spielberg understands that as a kid he was bullied and harassed. Making super 8 movies, literally calling the shots and ‘pushing’ around the ‘cool’ guys, was Spielberg’s way of getting control of his life. It was a way of making the world his. Abrams got started making super 8 movies too. Obviously there’s a kinship.

The best thing about Super 8 isn’t just its sheer joy and pleasure in special effects, suspense, and the exotic possibilities of sci-fi; it’s the way it connects so directly and deeply with all the nerds out there who tried to make sense of who they were by creating something. Distilled to essentials, Super 8 is about how making movies can be a great way to exorcise your demons and get control. It’s a fashionable theme; the need to ‘recover’ from some terrible angst is everywhere in American popular culture and movies, but this is the first ‘therapy’ movie I’ve seen about kids making a super 8 zombie movie!

The setting is a steel town in Ohio. The time is 1979 and 13-year-old Joe (Joel Courtney) is grieving over his mother, who was killed in an accident at the mill. His dad (Kyle Chandler) is the town cop, who’s struggling with the responsibility of fathering. His best buddy is Charles (Riley Griffiths), the teen auteur of what looks like a super 8 remake of Night of the Living Dead. Charles is probably the funniest of the movie’s several comic creations; he’s a self-obsessed user of a director, who spends most of the movie manipulating friends and foes to get his movie done. When pretty Alice (Elle Fanning), daughter of the town ‘troublemaker’, takes the female lead in the zombie movie, it’s the set up for romantic rivalry and an opportunity for Joe to learn a thing or two about first love.

While Joe and Charles and crew shoot a climatic scene at a deserted railway station ‘real-life’ crashes in; there’s a train wreck, something terrible escapes from the wreckage and their super 8 camera records the whole thing. Enter the army and a backstory about secret and sinister experiments. Will Joe step up for himself and his friends? Will he end up with Alice the girl from the wrong side of the tracks? Can Abrams keep up the relentless pace? You can guess the answers.

What follows has a predictable energy to it, but in a way that’s really enjoyable since Abrams understands the conventions so well; he’s terrific at putting something really unique or smart into every single ‘seen before’ moment.

Super 8 is kind of impossible to review in close detail since a lot of the fun is in the plot and to talk about that here is entering spoiler territory.

The performances are all fine, the scares are good, and it looks and sounds like a cross between E.T. and Lost. Still, what’s best about it is the way it taps the power of movies and stories. For Joe, filmmaking isn’t just about making fantasy, it’s a liberation.

 

Time [Richard Corliss]

 

REVIEW: J.J. Abrams' Spielberg Homage Super 8 Is Less ... - Movieline  Stephanie Zacharek

 

Bloody Disgusting Horror - "Super 8" Movie Info, Review, Headlines ...  David Harley

 

Super 8 Review | Pajiba: Reviews, News, Quotes & Cultural Commentary  Dustin Rowles

 

Review: Super 8 offers up charming character piece with ... - HitFix  Drew McWeeny from HitFix

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

A Nutshell Review [Stefan S]

 

About.com [Mark Harris]

 

Bigfanboy.com [Mark Walters]

 

eFilmCritic.com [Erik Childress]

 

Super 8 reviewed: J.J. Abrams tries to make an E.T. for a new - Slate  Dana Stevens

 

The Reel Bits [Sarah Ward and Richard Gray]

 

Quickflix [Simon Miraudo]

 

advancescreenings.com [Matthew Fong]

 

Filmcritic.com  Sean O’Connell

 

Super 8 (2011) Movie Review | BeyondHollywood.com  Nix

 

Super 8 - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

Film Reviews by Joe Morgenstern  The Wall Street Journal

 

Twitch [Ryland Aldrich]

 

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]

 

Cinema Blend [Eric Eisenberg]

 

FILM REVIEW: Super 8  Eli Glasner from CBC.ca Arts

 

Urban Cinefile (Australia) [Louise Keller + Andrew L. Urban]

 

The Sci-Fi Movie Page [Brian Orndorf]  also seen here:  BrianOrndorf.com [Brian Orndorf]  and here:  Super 8 : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical

 

Corndog Chats Cinema [Adam Kuhn]

 

7M Pictures [Kevin Carr]

 

www.screenspotlight.com [Jonathan Jacobs]

 

Cinema Autopsy  Thomas Caldwell

 

Monsters and Critics [Anne Brodie]

 

Mark Reviews Movies [Mark Dujsik]

 

Boxoffice Magazine [Todd Gilchrist]

 

Super 8 : DVD Talk Review of the Theatrical  Tyler Foster

 

Super 8: movie review  Peter Rainer from The Christian Science Monitor

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]

 

Super 8 Review | Movie Reviews and News | Summer Movies - Calendar ...  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety [Peter Debruge]

 

Super 8: Think Spielberg-lite, but with glimpses ... - Globe and Mail  Rick Groen

 

Abrams's latest is not so Super - Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Brett Michel

 

'Super 8' review: Hyped summer 'blockbuster' occasionally loses ...  Chris Hewitt from The St. Paul Pioneer Press

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

'Super 8' review: A+ for paean to B-movie sci-fi  Mick LaSalle from The SF Chronicle

 

'Super 8': Movie review - Los Angeles Times  Kenneth Turan

 

Super 8 :: rogerebert.com :: Reviews  Roger Ebert

 

J. J. Abrams's 'Super 8' Zooms In on a Dark Secret - Review ...  A.O. Scott from The New York Times

 

STAR TREK INTO  DARKNESS                         C                     76

USA  (132 mi)  2013  ‘Scope                 Paramount [us]

 

Lacking the humor and flair of the earlier STAR TREK (2009), this second J.J. Abrams stab at Star Trek (1966 – 1969), the legendary but now 37-year old Gene Roddenberry developed sci-fi TV show, more closely resembles STAR WARS (1977 – present), and its computer generated action adventures in outer space, where it’s no accident that Abrams has been chosen to direct the next STAR WARS movie.  Gone, however, is any trace of personality or clever character development that defined both the TV show and the earlier film, as this is pure stereotype throughout, expressed entirely through worn out cliché’s that have all been done better before.  So in effect, what feels like retread and rehashed TV is played out as purely conventional Hollywood material, a large-scaled exhibition that amounts to little more than a demolition derby, where with a boy-like wonder its creators get to blow stuff up.  How this became mainstream entertainment is Hollywood’s insistence upon repeating well-established formulas that have worked in the past.  The new Hollywood, in an era of financial instability, doesn’t trust new ideas or imagination, as there’s no built-in formula for success.  So everything looks and feels like a TV rerun, only larger, expanded to an immense scale, usually showcased on 3D screens, where the emphasis has shifted from acting and human drama to working almost exclusively with computers, where the human factor is nearly non-existent.  The video game look and sound of STAR WARS in the late 70’s has arrived, through the evolution of technology, to the point where computer generated battle sequences and explosions have become the standard bearer for Hollywood movies.  This is what America exports around the world, filling movie theaters with simulated war games, where the good guys routinely violate their prime directive for a supposedly larger moral objective, suggesting the rules of engagement exist only in theory, as the wily, battle hardened veterans always find ways to make an end run around commonly accepted practices. 

 

The original 60’s Star Trek TV series was actually conceived during the Vietnam War, where the Prime Directive, never explicitly spelled out, but suggests modern cultures with their more advanced technologies may not interfere in the evolution of another developing society, was actually a reflection of the writer’s sentiments that America had no business in Vietnam.  While the Prime Directive was routinely made light of, “I prefer to think of it as the Prime Suggestion,” by Captain James T. Kirk, the truth of the matter is that while this was the ideal objective in the abstract, it was, in reality, routinely ignored on any number of occasions, whenever Kirk felt the end justified the means.  In the post-Bush era of  Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and the Afghanistan incursions, there’s something ugly and cynical about the ease by which moral guidelines are routinely ignored in the movies, no doubt a mirror reflection of society’s apathetic compliance, but these transgressions are being made by the military branch’s flagship ambassador starship while supposedly carrying out the highest ideals of civilization, where the nonchalant hero (again Captain Kirk) seems to be saying oops, sorry about that, with little more seriousness than the wink of an eye.  It’s actually built into Kirk’s recalcitrant character from the beginning that he’s a reckless and cocky, hot shot, becoming the only student at Starfleet command to defeat the Kobayashi Maru test, earning a commendation for original thinking when he reprogrammed the computer, making a “no-win scenario” winnable.  It’s this kind of thinking that supposedly expresses Kirk’s stubborn individualism, where it’s a fine line between swaggering heroism and being sent to the brig for insubordination.  The film opens with exactly this kind of impossible situation, where against all odds the Captain must consider the unthinkable, where rescuing a single member from his crew could jeopardize the lives of all the others, and of course a brash and daring rescue mission, even though successful (was there ever any doubt?), gets him in trouble back home with Starfleet command, stripping him of his position as captain of the Enterprise.    

 

While improperly maligned, seemingly unjust, and downright unthinkable (as who wants to watch an episode with someone else in command?), this quickly becomes the least of our concerns, as in true GODFATHER III (1990) fashion, there is an intruder in the ranks, like Harry Potter’s Voldemort risen from the dead files of the Starfleet archives, someone with near supernatural powers who quickly threatens to destroy the balance of power and peaceful stabilization in the universe.  Escaping to an uninhabitable region of Klingon territory, this outlaw, played with British calm by Benedict Cumberbatch, turns out to be none other than the notorious villain Khan, played originally on TV by Ricardo Montalbán, reprising the role in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), though Cumberbatch bears no resemblance whatsoever to the evil ruthlessness of the character.  In fact, in a curious  twist, one of Starfleet’s own megalomaniacal commanders goes even more haywire, Alexander Marcus, played by Peter Weller, though it appears he’s channeling Richard Widmark’s demented film noir persona. It is Marcus that revives the military trained Khan from his cryogenic sleep, fearing war with the Klingons, where he works on developing top secret Starfleet weapons and battleships under a cover identity before he rebels, carrying out a series of attacks for the rest of the picture.  While there are plenty more references to the TV series, most are lame, poorly written, and pitifully undermined by the endless battle sequences that exclusively drive the action, with a single exception.  As the Enterprise, apparently sabotaged, comes under a blistering attack, engines stalled, losing warp power and attack mode, where the ship is in flames and people are dying by the second, Engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), who’s oblivious to what’s been happening as he’s been elsewhere, is beamed onboard the ship as it suddenly goes into a nosedive from engine failure, where he hilariously utters:  "One day I’ve been off this ship!  One bloody day!” STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - Character Profile - Scotty - YouTube  (1:06).  It’s a refreshing return to character, where other than that, the best that we’re treated to is a lover’s quarrel between Spock and Uhura (Zachary Quinto and Zoë Saldana) during the middle of another ferocious assault.  Chris Pine plays Kirk with the same kind of bland disrespect for authority, as if it’s been programmed into him, while Leonard Nimoy makes a brief appearance, breathing more life into his few seconds, albeit a reminder of just what we’re missing.    

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Stuart Crawford]

There's been a lot of speculation in recent months over whether Star Trek Into Darkness will see the return of a huge fan favourite to the franchise. It gives me great pleasure to announce that yes, the tribble is back. Sure, it only makes a cameo appearance, but it's a scene-stealer.

The tribble is not Benedict Cumberbatch.

Did everyone enjoy 2009's Star Trek reboot? I certainly did: it was an inherently enjoyable romp with more than enough charm to cover its many flaws. I'm still surprised when I find the occasional person who's indifferent or actively opposed. This time around: less charm, but fewer flaws.

Into Darkness ably addresses the two main criticisms leveled at its predecessor: the plot was nonsense and the villain was rubbish. The baddie's been beefed up, the plot's been pared down, but the emotional core which really sold the first film — the magnificent character interaction — remains unscathed. Everyone gets their own chance to shine, though the Kirk-Spock dynamic takes up most of the screentime.

There's plenty of screentime. Into Darkness weighs in at over two hours, and it doesn't mess about. We're into a ridiculous action set-piece from the get-go, in a scene that effortlessly captures the personality of the original series. Fan-pleasing references are littered throughout, from minor character names to major plot points to the aforementioned tribble, with some interesting role reversals and another cameo from Leonard Nimoy. It's impossible to say much more without spoiling the plot, but rest assured the film bounces along for the full two hours, holding attention principally through the strength of the key performances.

Cumberbatch carries on the grand tradition of British Hollywood villains, with flashes of both Hans Gruber and Dr Hannibal Lecktor evident in his portrayal of a charming sociopath. Lesser actors would struggle to keep up; it's a testament to Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto that they manage to hold their own. Another unexpected treat is Peter Weller, a criminally underrated actor who'll hopefully pick up some more high-profile roles off the back of this one.

As with the 2009 offering, the visuals are stunning, the cinematography dynamic and engaging, the vfx superb. At times it feels rather like watching someone else playing a videogame, but these scenes are few and thankfully brief. We may be going where we've already gone before, but we're plenty bold about it.

Exclaim! [Scott A. Gray]

 

Afforded all the freedom in the 'verse to create their own take on the Star Trek mythos, thanks to the alternate timeline established by 2009's broad but reasonably clever reboot-quel, team Abrams almost immediately sets about squandering all of that potential on superficial, nostalgic fan-service thinly spread between layers of typical, mindless action entertainment.

When Trekkies see where J.J. Abrams and company have taken their beloved franchise, they're likely to explode in fury over the lightweight comedy (ha, ha, Vulcans are different!) and illogical plot points (did you know that Spock is tougher than a full platoon of Klingon warriors?). Or, contrarily, perhaps they'll swoon in nerdgasmic ecstasy over shined-up, dumbed-down versions of iconic story elements from days gone by that have been trotted out to trick the faithful into believing that this is anything other than crass, brand-aware, mass market entertainment.

Everyone involved has gone to great lengths to keep the film's secrets, but the movie tips its hand fairly early on (and IMDB seems fine with spoilers), so the big "surprise" at the heart of the embarrassingly titled Into Darkness is hardly that. Even so, the writers half-heartedly try to throw expectant viewers off the scent with an internal terrorist plot and a looming Klingon war MacGuffin.

To start things off, after a colourful, kinetic opening sequence on a random M-class planet that resets the adversarial logic-versus-gut-instinct side of Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Kirk's (Chris Pine) relationship, we spend too much time being reminded that Kirk is a cocky rule breaker in need of discipline. The mentor/mentee dynamic between Colonel Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and our brash, young captain is dusted off when Kirk is relieved of command for violating the Prime Directive to save a crewmember.

This order is rendered moot almost as soon as it's handed down; tracking a deadly murderer into Klingon territory is far more important than following rules of non-interference with primitive cultures. Admiral Marcus and a comely young science officer by the name of Carol (Alice Eve, proving that she actually has a bit of range) have important parts to play in the mechanical and frequently silly plot. However, the motivations of their characters are even less developed than those of the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who steals every scene he's in with his rich, booming voice and commanding presence).

Don't expect any intriguing science, mind games or thought experiments from Into Darkness — this is Star Trek as pure action spectacle, where every side character exists solely to sling bon mots intended to satiate audience members hungry for the comfortable familiarity of repetition. The movie looks fantastic, as long as you love lens flare, and has enough pointless, large-scale destruction to compete with any Transformers film.

However, anyone looking for more than a modern military paranoia twist on a pre-existing story — one that's overflowing with the most basic populist humour imaginable — will be left feeling colder than a Vulcan in a cryo-tube.

Slant Magazine [Chris Cabin]

The thrill and peril of revisiting and revising history served not only as a mission statement for J.J. Abrams's Star Trek, but also as the chief thematic concern of the narrative, involving dueling attempts to alter or recreate history rather than accept it. Abrams essentially successfully recreated popular myth by highlighting his own unease in undertaking such a tremendous task, and the result was a film that exceeded nearly every other filmic iteration of the series.

As such, it's not exactly surprising that Star Trek Into Darkness compounds that unease and further dismantles accepted mythology. Still, it's a reassuring sign that Abrams and his collaborators continue to chart their own distinct path through the final frontier. There's an ironic punch, then, to the film opening with Captain James T. Kirk (Christopher Pine) and First Officer Spock's (Zachary Quinto) inability to practice anonymity, following an exhilarating last-minute rescue of Spock from the gut of an active volcano. For Kirk, the issue is less the demotion he receives from father-figure Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) than Spock's willingness to follow the prime directive, even at the expense of his life or their friendship. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Spock's long-term partner, isn't very pleased with this either, as it turns out.

For Abrams, the Spock/Kirk dynamic serves as both central dramatic relationship and a perfect abstraction of the creative process of deciding when to indulge the mythology of the series created by Gene Rodenberry and when to trust one's own sense of creation—the personal versus the proven, played out as intergalactic action-melodrama. (Spoilers herein.) And like the film, Kirk is stripped of his own rebuilt sense of personal history early on, when Pike is murdered during an attack engineered by John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a mysterious traitor in the Starfleet ranks who's hiding out on Qo'noS, home planet of the Klingons. Left mourning and in need of vengeance, Kirk comes under the tutelage of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who sends him to destroy Qo'noS and Harrison with a cadre of new weaponry.

Even more than its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is densely plotted, and occasionally borders on the convoluted, but the clarity and inventiveness of the direction keeps the drama and action constantly percolating. This comes in handy when it's revealed that Harrison is, in fact, Khan, an engineered super-being awakened from cryogenic slumber to help create weaponry for Starfleet's attack on Qo'noS. The revelation of Admiral Marcus's warmongering, made by an initially helpful Khan, dismantles Kirk's newly reinforced ideal of Starfleet as do-gooders, but also bonds him to his enemy, and the script rebuilds the rivalry between Kirk and Khan with a rousing sense of moral complexity. Khan isn't sketched in terms of the perceived evil of his actions, but by his potent ideas and knowledge, which are corrupted by a need for violent vengeance.

Put simply, Khan is Kirk left to his own devices, without his trusted crewmembers to offer wisdom and counsel. His need for his crew is mirrored in Abrams's shrewdly democratic sense of developing action, the precision of which feels almost too perfectly calibrated at points. The ambitions and moral weight of the narrative, however, are so striking that the film never feels particularly overwrought. With less major set pieces than its predecessor and a scant amount of creatures, Star Trek Into Darkness strides like a sci-fi box-office behemoth, but has the emotional rigors of poison-tipped melodrama. In this, the inevitable comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back are absolutely justified.

This isn't to say that the film lacks muscle: a shoot-out with a battalion of Klingons, the Enterprise's powerless free fall, and Spock and Khan's climactic duel in the sky above San Francisco all afford thrilling action to match the emotional lacerations that the Enterprise crewmembers must endure, from without and within. At first glance, the film seems to just reiterate the structure and trials of its predecessor by focusing again on the battle between Kirk's ego and Spock's logic, but the stakes have clearly been raised, the moral knot further tightened and tangled. Kirk is no longer seeking an identity for himself, but also for those he must lead, as he watches his idols either die or become violent cowards. The struggle to become both an individual and a leader simultaneously, without the crutch of established honor, has obvious underpinnings for Abrams, a brilliant director who now finds himself watching George Lucas's throne. That struggle doesn't come to an easy, quick, or certain conclusion for anyone in Star Trek Into Darkness, which is more defined by inner demons and emotional gamesmanship than warp drives and photon torpedoes.

Sight & Sound [Kim Newman]  May 10, 2013

 

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PopMatters [J.C. Maçek III]  From Thinking Steaks to TITANic Mistakes: The 'Star Trek' Films They Almost Made, May 13, 2013

 

Star Trek Into Darkness, directed by J.J. Abrams, reviewed. - Slate ...  Dana Stevens

 

Resistance Is Futile: The Illogical Science of Star Trek  Phil Plait from Slate, May 16, 2013

 

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Abu-Assad, Hany

 

FORD TRANSIT                                                      B+                   92

Palestine  Israel  (80 mi)  2002
 
Delightful romp through the Israeli checkpoints, as seen from the point of view from one enterprising and very appealing young Palestinian Ford minibus cab driver, easily the most popular form of transportation in the occupied territories, who transports a provocative group of customers from Ramallah to Jerusalem, usually having to take detours due to the everpresent Israeli checkpoints, which he avoids, as he transports contraband goods.  The film has a theatrical appeal, opening with the music from Sergio Leone westerns, which re-appears from time to time, suggesting this film is about a revenge western on a larger scale, with literate customers who are well rehearsed, who are probably actors playing the part, but no matter, what they have to say is intelligent, absorbing, and sometimes hysterically appealing, including the likes of Palestinian journalist and politician Hanan Ashrawi and Israeli filmmaker BZ Goldberg.  Among the chosen points of view, an overweight man with a heart problem who indicated any time Bush appears on Palestinian TV, it should come with a health warning, to watch it at your own risk, as he always feels as if he’s about to have a heart attack, or another who thinks American presidents should have to pass an IQ test, as a stupid American president like Bush can cause more international damage than what any terrorist could ever possibly hope to accomplish, or another who speaks of the Palestinians need to “hope” for a heaven, noting those that have such misery on earth have a higher need for a salvation in heaven.  Again, what works is grounding the film’s very serious subject matter with the obvious charm and appeal of the young bus driver.  He’s not a terrorist, yet it’s obvious from what the camera observes from his bus that each time he reaches an Israeli checkpoint, each Palestinian is treated like a terrorist, and anyone can only take so much humiliation before he responds with rage.  This political film has enormous insight and appeal.  Ironically, one of the outcomes of the Oslo accord was Israel’s gift of Ford minibuses to the Palestinian people as a goodwill gesture, which now scoot around the country avoiding Israelis at all costs.

 

PARADISE NOW

Netherlands  Israel  Germany  France  (90 mi)  2005 

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | Paradise Now (2005)  Ali Jaafer from Sight and Sound, May 2006

 

Nablus, Palestine, the present. Best friends Saïd and Khaled work in a garage. One of the cars they fix belongs to Suha, the daughter of a man respected for being a Palestinian ‘martyr'. Saïd tries to ignore his and Suha's mutual attraction. Later that evening a Palestinian militant informs Saïd that he and Khaled have been chosen to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel the following day; they both have one last evening to spend with their families.

Late at night, Saïd goes to see Suha and tells her his father was killed for collaborating with the Israelis, but he doesn't say anything about the planned suicide operation. The following day, Saïd and Khaled are readied for their mission, and bombs are strapped to their waists. They are taken to a crossing on the border with Israel, but a mix-up results in Saïd and Khaled getting separated. Khaled links up with the other militants, but they cannot find Saïd. As Khaled tries to find Saïd he bumps into Suha. She finds out about their plans and tries to persuade Khaled not to go through with the attack. They find Saïd at his father's grave. The next morning Saïd and Khaled set off once more on their mission. Khaled reveals he doesn't want to go through with it. Saïd pretends to agree with him but at the last moment escapes from Khaled and gets on a bus. The screen fades to white.

Review

At the end of Rana's Wedding, his 2002 film about a young Palestinian woman frantically evading Israeli checkpoints to get to her wedding on time, director Hany Abu-Assad used an excerpt from the Palestinian activist-poet Mahmud Darwish: "Under siege, life is the moment between remembrance of the first moment and forgetfulness of the last." In Paradise Now Abu-Assad is still under siege, and this time exploring the circumstances that lead to two Palestinian friends becoming suicide bombers. Whereas his previous work (notably Rana's Wedding and the same year's Ford Transit) depicted the daily humiliations of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation with a mischievously upturned eyebrow, Paradise Now provides a discomfortingly intimate view of the conflict: it is an act of remembrance suffused with bitterness.

The film had a troubled production: it was shot largely on location in the West Bank town of Nablus at the height of the recent intifada; one of Abu-Assad's location managers was kidnapped by Palestinian militants; and his crew were repeatedly caught in the crossfire of gun battles between the Israeli army and Palestinian militias. So it is something of a triumph that it has made it to UK screens at all. Given its highly contentious subject matter (some 250 Israeli civilians have died in suicide attacks since January 2001), it is all the more remarkable for emerging as a deeply humanistic and compassionate work that avoids moralising or dogma. Best friends Saïd and Khaled are first shown passing their days working in a local garage, smoking shisha and sipping lukewarm coffee while looking out over their rambling town; the sound of distant gunfire punctuates their conversations. There are no visceral explosions or battles to signify the ongoing conflict, but rather mirage-like wisps of smoke in the background. The approach is indicative of all Abu-Assad's work, which favours subtlety over didactic bludgeoning.

Then, after this seemingly innocuous beginning, Saïd and Khaled are recruited by an unnamed Palestinian group to carry out a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. When Saïd takes his new and last employer Jamal home for dinner, his mother is quick to don her headscarf: the gesture is a silent yet unmistakable nod to the man's faith. But, bravely, Abu-Assad does not invoke religious fervour as the reasons for Saïd's readiness to die. Whereas Syriana showed vulnerable youths being recruited as suicide bombers by an insidious brand of Muslim fanaticism, in Paradise Now the trigger is more personal: Saïd's father was killed by his own people for collaborating with the Israelis; fundamentally, however, Saïd holds the Israeli occupation responsible for his father's death. The personal is made the political in the most emphatic manner.

For all the undoubted gravity of the dramatic situation, the director still allows himself moments of unexpected humour. In one scene, Khaled records his last will and testament, AK-47 and chequered kuffiyah held aloft in iconic revolutionary mode, only to have the gravity of the moment repeatedly interrupted by a malfunctioning video camera, his own desire to tell his mother where to buy cheap water filters and assembled militants noisily eating sandwiches in the background. Messy reality collides with the solemn business of myth-making.

Some critics have seen in the character of Suha, the affluent, western-raised daughter of a respected Palestinian martyr, the voice of reason: an objective plea for calm amid the maelstrom of an irrational, unwinnable war. Certainly, her scene with Khaled when they debate the rights and wrongs of suicide bombers is the closest the film comes to a political lecture.

Abu-Assad neither glorifies nor condones the tactic. But that didn't stop Israeli and US critics of Paradise Now from campaigning against its nomination for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film; they accused the film and film-maker of sympathising with terrorism. At the same time, Abu-Assad has found himself criticised in certain Palestinian circles for not portraying his doomed protagonists heroically enough.

If we are to judge the director by the company of his enemies, therefore, Paradise Now is not an exercise in propaganda. And the film is most powerful in its moments of lyrical reflection. As the two young heroes depart to Tel Aviv (now shockingly shorn of their lived-in beards and long hair, and baptised into sleek, clean-shaven walking time bombs), Saïd looks mournfully out of the window of the vehicle taking them to the border with Israel, the peaceful hills speeding behind him. It is an unspoken declaration of regret and longing for a land equally cursed and blessed, where the sight of a sun-soaked valley sits in jarring proximity to a smouldering block of rubble.

Paradise Now  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

[SPOILERS] It's easy enough to chalk this film's festival success and (relatively) substantial commercial push to its charged subject matter, and to do so wouldn't be wrong. But there's an incoherence bedeviling Paradise Now that is truly bizarre, since it ironically serves to make the film more ingratiating. It begins as a kind of observational master-shot affair, its first ten minutes containing the only striking composition you'll see during the entire ninety. (This is the crooked bumper / boiling coffee shot, which is kind of a silly sequence in any case and, it could be argued although I won't press too hard on this, may have cribbed its visual gag from Suleiman's Divine Intervention.) Then it becomes a flirtation story, and then a procedural, and then a chase film, and then a platform for dueling political position papers, and then a sins-of-the-fathers disquisition, and finally it ends with a twist of sorts, one that actually reverses any logical character development established in the first hour. Although this scattershot construction leaves the analytical viewer with the impression that Abu-Assad isn't a particularly skilled craftsman, in the moment it can almost feel refreshing, as though he's a balls-out showman willing to try anything. I'll admit that the first part of the film rebuffed my attempts at engagement, but then once we hit the martyr-video sequence, Abu-Assad's unlikely gallows humor pulled me in, and I was able to stick it out from there. In fact, this much-remarked-upon sequence almost announced itself as Paradise Now's thematic linchpin -- the unacknowledged distance between representation and reality, and how Islamist dogma, like any ideological metanarrative, imposes itself like a matrix over daily life, eventually effacing the distinction between action and interpretation. But if this were really Abu-Assad's grand assertion, why have his two potential suicide bombers switch places, with Khaled the Islamist rhetor suddenly discovering gray areas, and Said, the more introspective man, becoming the eventual conduit for violence? It's as though each man's encounter with pacifist Western thought (in the form of an attractive, urbane French-Moroccan woman) turns their belief systems inside-out, by magic. How are we to read this film? If Said and Khaled are two men so ground down by the daily violence and humiliations of the occupation that they'll turn their bodies into bombs, how can they be so fickle? In a way, it's almost as though Abu-Assad is depicting a colonization of the mind, giving us a picture of Palestinians so desperate that they can't even maintain coherent beliefs over ninety minutes. But then again, Paradise Now operates as though it's a symptom of that same psychological malady.

 
PARADISE NOW   Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

 

Paradise Now and Route 181. By Richard Porton - Eyal Sivan  Roads to Somewhere: Paradise Now, by Richard Porton from Cinema Scope (pdf format)          

             

BFI | Sight & Sound | Bomb Culture  B. Ruby Rich from Sight and Sound, April 2006

 

Reel Bad Arabs:  How Hollywood Vilifies a People, by Jack G. Shaheen, book review by Christian Blauvelt from Jump Cut, Spring 2008

 

Abu-Assad, Hany   interview by Gerald Peary

 

OMAR                                                                        B                     89                   

Palestine  (96 mi)  2013  ‘Scope

 

Much of the fatalistic implications from this movie have the riveting feel of real life drama, as it depicts the improbable and near impossible mountain for Palestinians to climb to obtain respect and nationhood around the world, as this harrowing story of how deeply implanted the Israeli’s have infiltrated into every fabric of Palestinian life is a bit overwhelming at times.  Part of the film’s power is how accurately it reflects life under occupation, and the futility of negotiating any peace agreement with the Israeli’s, as there’s little likelihood of any progress, as Israel has the Palestinians exactly where they want them, fractured, divided, powerless, and permanently economically disadvantaged, where they literally have to flee the country to find jobs and a new life elsewhere.  If they stay, this film reflects, with stunning accuracy, the grim future that awaits them.  Told with a searing intensity that recalls the near documentary portrait of Jacques Audiard’s brutal prison film 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 A Prophet (Un Prophète), this film depicts the horrible choices that will doom their futures, as young males can expect to be continually rounded up and arrested by Israeli police raids into the occupied territories where they are tortured into becoming informers for the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, whose motto is “Defender that shall not be seen” or “The unseen shield,” where they have little choice, as otherwise they’ll simply rot in prison on the mere suspicion of a crime.  And if they are released, their own people suspect they are traitors, that they sold out someone in order to gain their freedom, as that’s the way the system works, so they’re damned either way.  Making matters worse, they’re also humiliated and brutalized when picked up by the Palestinian police, as both sides continually suspect informers in their midst, so the political reality is a hyped up level of elevated paranoia and suspicion, where the legal system simply doesn’t allow due process, so you’re viewed as guilty unless you can prove otherwise, where in all likelihood freedom means you’ve informed on someone. 

 

Abu-Assad’s earlier films beginning with RANA’S WEDDING (2002) depict the turmoil and daily humiliations of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, though FORD TRANSIT (2003) is often hilarious and satirically charming, where young minibus cab drivers, the most popular form of transportation in the occupied territories, are viewed as local heroes in the reckless abandon on display in running a black market business of contraband while avoiding Israeli checkpoints.  The road from childhood friends to eventual suicide bombers in PARADISE NOW (2005) reveals a discomfortingly yet altogether human view of the conflict, something of a morality tale turning decidedly more fatalistic, where one character suggests, “Under the occupation, we're already dead.”  OMAR, which won the Jury Prize (Special Award) in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, is an outgrowth of that philosophy, where young people growing up today are under no illusions, yet they’re driven to be freedom fighters by a shattered and disintegrated culture desperate to survive, refusing to live under the thumb of the Israeli’s even as they’re forced to on a daily basis.  This Kafkaesque existence of life under siege is impossible to comprehend anywhere else in the world except here, where there is little alternative except to fight back.  Adam Bakri as Omar couldn’t be more enthusiastically energetic as he scales a rope attached to the top of the 30-foot Wall of the Israeli West Bank barrier to visit his girlfriend, constantly seen on the run where he dodges in and out of narrow streets eluding police, even performing acrobatic roof jumps, navigating a circuitous path to the home of best friend Tarek (Eyad Hourani), where he sips tea while passing notes back and forth with his attractive sister Nadja (Leem Lubany), the real object of his desire.  Secretly he pursues a romantic life together, while at the same time he and Tarek, along with another childhood friend Amjad (Samer Bisharat), plot radical acts of revenge against the continuing presence of Israeli occupiers, culminating in the sniper killing of a border policeman.  Not long afterwards, Omar is picked up in an Israeli commando-style military raid in the West Bank. 

    

What starts out so romantic and brightly optimistic turns suddenly dark and graphically ugly when Omar is brutally tortured, along with nearly all of the other Palestinian prisoners, where life on the inside of a prison is admittedly dour and hopeless.  While they’re looking for the triggerman of the shooting, Omar’s hopes rest with a lack of evidence, but those hopes are dashed when a planted fellow inmate records him claiming he would never confess, something that in this depraved part of the world is as good as a conviction, considered guilt by association, as it suggests he has something to confess.  This bizarre legal reasoning leaves him sentenced to 90-years, where lawyers have no influence on the outcome.  In a stunning metaphor for current Palestinian-Israeli relations, Omar’s options are slim to none, as he can die in prison, a noble believer in the cause but an ineffectual and forgotten entity in an endless struggle, or he can be recruited by the Shin Bet to become an informer, ultimately betraying the only cause he’s ever believed in.  The Israeli handler, Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter), is an equally complex figure, as he’s highly intelligent and continually shows genuine empathy for Omar’s precarious position, where he becomes the only person who knows the truth about Omar, perhaps his only friend, but he’s like a mouse in a trap, as there is no escaping the clutches of the secret police.  Once released, on an assignment to set up his friend Tarek, he immediately comes under suspicion in his own community, as they suddenly have their doubts about one of their own.  Whatever his dreams and ambitions may have been about being a force for Palestinian freedom have suddenly been undermined by a deal with the devil.  While he hopes to sort this out on the other side, picking up where he left off with Nadja, making plans to marry her, but things don’t go as planned, where he winds up right back in prison with an even slimmer opportunity to get out.  What’s interesting is the degree of personal intimacy in the conversations between Omar and Rami, which (much like negotiations) rely upon a trust factor, even as they secretly hate and mistrust one another’s real intentions, yet they are destined to play out this sick game together, as Omar insists he can deliver the goods.  But once back on the street he’s become a walking pariah, where no one wants to be seen with him, where he does fit the description of the quote from PARADISE NOW (2005), even more than before.  Turning into something of a psychological thriller, veering into a political hell where best friends are subject to betrayal, as the personal becomes the political, the Biblical reference to Judas looms perilously close, where it’s impossible to imagine being placed into a similar situation.  When seen in this light, captured as an informer, those everpresent media images of massive Palestinian marches and demonstrations hoisting martyred heroes’ coffins in the air through the streets with flags unfurled heralding statehood and nationalistic unity never seemed so pointless and empty, like it’s all just a faded dream.   

         

TIFF 2013 | Omar (Hany Abu-Assad, Palestine ... - Cinema Scope  Richard Porton

 

While the Israeli-Palestinian quagmire has some inspired some distinguished non-fiction films since the dawn of the 21st century—notably Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s Route 181; Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel, which remains one of the least seen important documentaries of the last decade—most features tackling this intractable conflict are disappointingly mediocre. Made by a Palestinian director who resides in the Netherlands, Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar is a relatively undidactic take on the lives of ordinary Palestinians with no choice but to endure the indignities imposed by the constraints of Israel’s “separation wall.” Less schematic and overdetermined than Abu-Assad’s overrated Paradise Now, the film’s impact is nevertheless compromised by its failure to resolve whether it wants to be a nail-biting thriller, a trenchant character study, or an indictment of recent Israeli policy. Truth be told, it’s most successful as a character study: the eponymous hero, devoted to his girlfriend who resides on the other side of the separation wall, wanting to leave a normal life but driven by a commitment to the armed resistance movement, is a prime target for recruitment as a double agent by the Shin Bet. Only a party pooper would reveal the climactic plot twist that makes Omar’s revenge on his tormentors satisfyingly sweet—and, at least fleetingly, prevents this uneven film from being just another well-intentioned but entirely predictable political thriller.

 

In Review Online [Ty Landis]

Tragedy and betrayal swirl around Palestinian writer/director Hany Abu-Assad’s Omar, a contemporary thriller/melodrama that sheds further light on the simmering tensions existing in the Middle East. While Assad has tackled this milieu before, most notably in Paradise Now (2005), Omar is yet another eye-opening look into the violence that desperation often spawns via the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If Paradise Now grimly tackled the morality of two would-be suicide bombers, Omar explores a similar stripping away of humanity in a much more relatable way, especially through a sprinkling of dark humor and the inclusion of a romantic angle.

Caught in the dual cross-hairs of allegiance and disloyalty is Omar (Adam Bakri), a young Palestinian baker who feels the pressures of love and loyalty weighing down on him: He wishes to marry a high school girl, Najda (Leem Lubany), but is hesitant on running the idea past her brother (and Omar’s friend) Tarek (Eyad Hourani). The two, alongside another childhood pal Amjad (Samer Bisharat) act as freedom fighters, plotting to kill an Israeli soldier. After the trio succeeds, and with Amjad pulling the trigger, Omar is eventually nabbed by Israeli forces, led by Agent Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter). Omar is eventually tricked into an admission of guilt and made informant to bring in Tarek (the group leader) in exchange for his own freedom.

After being released, Omar has a month to complete his task, but things are further complicated when Tarek discovers Omar’s assistance on a planned ambush. We’re left to wonder where Omar’s true loyalties lie as he must maintain this increasingly hard balance act to bide time with the Israeli forces and maintain the trust of his friends. All the while, Omar continues to drop in on Najda to make their relationship known to Tarek. While the couple’s romance is easily the weakest and most undeveloped section of the film, the actors make amends and sustain plausibility with their subtle performances.

The heavily plotted last hour of the film manages to venture down a familiar narrative path, but with Abu-Assad’s assured direction and Bakri’s layered performance, Omar achieves an agreeable freshness that overcomes its potential schematic feel. The film’s numerous suspense set pieces, mostly on-foot chase scenes, sport a clearly defined sense of location and space that help them move in a rhythmic fashion. Bakri is a talent to watch not only for his ability to evoke both mystery and sympathy, but for his impressive physicality as well, whether he’s fiercely dodging law enforcement or scaling walls.

While Abu-Assad’s film never quite transcends its political trappings, Omar still works because of its commitment to a refreshingly humanist worldview. Omar is a film not about choosing sides, but instead a drama about the human cost of living under such a brutal occupation.

Omar / The Dissolve  Jordan Hoffman

The first image in Omar is a wall. For viewers from another planet—or those who don’t read the world-news section of the paper—next to nothing in the movie explicitly indicates that this is the separation barrier between Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. This lack of context is an effective creative choice. Given that this is a film about a very specific political situation, with lifetimes of scholarship and signifiers behind it, writer-director Hany Abu-Assad made a bold decision in pulling back and going broad. If not for one shot including an Israeli flag, the movie could work as a universal tone-poem about the fraying resolve of freedom fighters, and how they’re defeated by stronger forces.

But few people with such an uninterested worldview will ever see this movie, and Abu-Assad’s cinematic take isn’t so revolutionary that it can rewire thinking. This isn’t The Battle Of Algiers, it’s a small-scale drama about a hard-to-pin-down individual in an intractable battle far greater than he is.

Ambiguous protagonists are, by now, something of Abu-Assad’s stock in trade. 2005’s controversial Paradise Now, a portrait of two would-be suicide bombers made when terrorist attacks inside of Israel were more common, dared to try and humanize these evildoers, as many Westerners were calling them then. When Omar (Adam Bakri) is introduced, he seems more interested in stealing time away with his gal pal Nadia (Leem Lubany) than waging asymmetric war. He’s eventually pushed—allows himself to be pushed? chooses to get pushed?—along the path toward martyrdom.

Omar is part of a small cell, run by Nadia’s older brother Tarek (Iyad Hoorani), which includes his chum Amjad (Samer Bisharat), a jokester who’s a little shy and also has the hots for Nadia. The three pull off an operation wherein they shoot an Israeli soldier. Assad films this through the gun’s sight, with the three men chattering as they pick off a target at random. The wrong-place/wrong-time nature of the particular soldier’s death is surprising. Even the most rabid anti-Zionist partisan would agree that the affair seems to lack in glory.

The deed quickly comes back to haunt the group. Moles are everywhere; nothing gets past the Israeli secret police. Omar is soon picked up, tortured, and tricked into giving a quasi-confession. Amjad pulled the trigger, but the man the Israelis really want is Tarek. In short order, and much to his own amazement, Omar ends up working as an informer to save his own skin. His Shin Bet handler Rami (Waleed F. Zuaiter) starts spinning him in circles, and the pair share one of the film’s sole moments of levity, discussing Spider-Man. (Omar is given to moments of brooding solitude, and since he works at a bakery, there’s ample time to watch pita bread rise in a hot coal oven of symbolism.)

With torn allegiances, Omar tries to stay one step ahead of everyone—or at least that’s what he appears to be doing, as Abu-Assad’s reserved approach goes to great lengths to keep Omar’s true feelings distant. Still, anyone who has seen a cop movie knows this isn’t going to go well. A third-act twist, however, is unexpected enough that it ought to brush aside any plot complaints like “If the Shin Bet is just so all-seeing and all-knowing, why do they need Omar to track down Tarek in the first place?”

Apart from the acceptable length of time that can elapse before you give a wedding present, the Israel-Palestine debate is among the world’s thornier and most intractable issues. It’s clear Omar thinks he’s a freedom fighter, but does the film with his name in the title think he’s a freedom fighter? Abu-Assad’s stance on killing Israelis, if he is meant to stand for the voice of the film, is open to interpretation. 

The writer-director chooses to show only what Omar sees. Omar is harassed by border police, but the film offers zero context as to why there needs to be border police in the first place. Abu-Assad has ample cover in simply telling a character’s story, but given the realpolitik of this conflict, the words of the great poet-philosopher Neil Peart come to mind: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

A moralistic gray zone is good for business, though, at least with a foreign-language film trying to penetrate the American market. Regardless of whether the film and Abu-Assad advocate the characters’ actions will lead to post-screening discussion, perhaps more than the meat of the film itself. For what it’s worth, the self-identified Palestinian Hany Abu-Assad carries Israeli citizenship, and spent much of his life in the Netherlands. This is undeniably juicy packaging for what is, at its core, a good but not great crime drama. Of further note, two more upcoming films, Bethlehem and The Green Prince, both Israeli productions (the latter a documentary), are also about Palestinian informants with Shin Bet. Could make quite the triple feature.

Omar | Reverse Shot  Michael Koresky

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

Film Corner [Greg Klymkiw]

 

“Omar”: A devious Hitchcock thriller, in Palestine - Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

Slant Magazine [Tomas Hachard]

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

Film Racket [Chris Barsanti]

 

Review: 2014 Best Foreign Film Oscar Nominee 'Omar'|The ...  Gabe Toro from The Playlist

 

Critics At Large : Art vs. Propaganda: Bethlehem and Omar  Shlomo Schwartzberg

 

Little White Lies [Sophie Monks Kaufman]

 

Movie Mezzanine [Amir Soltani]

 

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

Review: OMAR, A Heart Pounding Thriller And ... - Twitch  Dustin Chang

 

DVD Talk - Blu-ray [Ian Jane]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

FilmSchoolRejects [Daniel Walber]

 

Filmmaking Review [Jordan Baker]

 

Sound On Sight (John Oursler)

 

Spectrum Culture [David Harris]

 

SBS Movies [Rochelle Siemienowicz]

 

Film-Forward.com [Nora Lee Mandel]

 

ReelTalk [Donald Levit]

 

[NYFF Review] Omar - The Film Stage  Forrest Cardamenis

 

ArtsHub [Sarah Ward]

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

EFilmCritic [Jay Seaver]

 

Dork Shelf [Dave Voigt]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Hot Property: Omar | Film Comment  Nicolas Rapold

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Movie Mezzanine [Tom Clift]

 

Interview: Hany Abu-Assad Talks OMAR And The ... - Twitch  Dustin Chang interview from Twitch, February 20, 2014

 

The Luxury of Unhappiness: Director Hany Abu-Assad Talks Omar ...  Livia Bloom interview from Filmmakers magazine, February 24, 2014

 

Interview: Hany Abu-Assad | Film Comment  Nicolas Rapold interview, February 24, 2014

 

Omar: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Deborah Young

 

Variety [Jay Weissberg]

 

'Omar' movie review - The Washington Post  Ann Hornaday

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]

 

Review: 'Omar' - Featured Articles From The Los Angeles ...  Betsy Sharkey from The LA Times

 

L.A. Biz [Annlee Ellingson]

 

RogerEbert.com [Sheila O'Malley]

 

In 'Omar,' the West Bank Is a Backdrop for Betrayal - NYTimes.com  A.O. Scott

 

Achard, Laurent

 

DEMENTED                                                             D+                   66

France  (95 mi)  2006

 

A thoroughly detestable film, one that is based on exploring extreme family instability, adapted from the Timothy Findley novel The Last of the Crazy People, this setting is confined to the strange rural inhabitants living in a run down farm that they are having a difficult time trying to sell.  The look of the farmhouse is identical to Haneke’s dream flashback to his childhood home in CACHÉ, where even the shot from the shadows of the barn (of an ax) with a view of the house across an open expanse looks the same.  Following that train of thought, it could be a possible extension of that same story through the perspective of the young Algerian child, who is seen throughout this film.  Julien Cochelin plays Martin, a silent, droopy eyed 10-year old Algerian kid who has the run of the premises with little, if any, supervision, providing a near voyeuristic perspective, as the camera follows his eyes throughout the film.  His mother may actually be the Algerian housekeeper to this seriously dysfunctional white French family that seem to be in a constant state of decay, which features a mother locked away in a room due to her psychosis or dementia, gazing at nothing for long periods of time, or screaming at the top of her lungs at others, where Martin, alleged to be her son, is not allowed admittance to her room.  Her weak-kneed husband works the farm, while his mother is a busybody who criticizes anything and everything around her but is apparently running the financial end into ruin, remaining in a constant state of dissatisfaction, while their older son Didier is a closeted gay who fancies himself as a writer but is in an emotional tailspin after his lover is about to marry someone else, so he wastes his time flailing away drinking beer.  No one is happy with anyone else, reflected by recurring offscreen episodes of extreme noise and violence, usually with Martin sitting there in the kitchen absorbing it all.  This happens so frequently that it becomes unintentionally amusing, as the accentuated mood of hysteria is so wretchedly contrived that the film, even without any musical score, loses any sense of naturalness in this setting, as if there may be missing aliens in the attic.  Instead every scene leads to a kind of gloomy melodramatic world of unreality.  Watching this film deteriorate is pure drudgery, as the inevitable signs of a breakdown of all order only get worse, culminating in a finality of apocalyptic proportions.  Anyone care to wait for this to happen?  And even if they do, does it prove anything?  Are we better off having experienced this? 

 

The Flickering Wall [Jorge Mourinha]

 

A 10-year-old watches as his highly strung, bankrupted rural family slowly unravels during the course of a summer. Bleak, overwrought drama that lavishes intense performances and highly stylized, formalist handling on a somewhat hysterical version of Cold Comfort Farm.

 

Festival of New French Cinema  Andrea Gronvall from the Reader

 

Timothy Findley’s Canadian novel The Last of the Crazy People was the source material for this moody 2006 psychodrama by Laurent Achard, who’s changed the locale from Ontario to the French countryside. First-time actor Julien Cochelin stars as a lonely ten-year-old surrounded by strife: his mother is insane and never leaves her room, his older brother is a gay alcoholic reeling from rejection, and his grandmother is furious that his father is about to lose the family farm. Only the Arab housekeeper shows him any affection, and during their visit to a neighbor’s home, the boy spies a handgun that presages tragedy. With his drooping right eyelid and lack of affect, Cochelin is well cast as the damaged child, but the screenplay lacks subtlety, telegraphing almost every development.

 

Festival of New French Cinema  Diane Eberhardt from Facets

 

The disintegration of a country family is seen through the wide-open eyes of a young boy. With a mentally unstable mother who never leaves her room, a helpless and passive father, a controlling grandmother, a love-sick brother who turns to alcohol and violence and a new friend who betrays him, eleven year-old Martin (Julien Cochelin) finds little solace in life on this run-down farm, other than in the bond he shares with the housekeeper and the company of his cat. This spare film is replete with a quiet anxiety, where the mounting despair is portrayed in carefully constructed, precise scenes, whose minimal action is starkly contrasted within an austere Gothic drama. Directed by Laurent Achard, France, 2006, 35mm, 95 mins. In French with English subtitles.

 

"A lightning bolt in the sky of emerging French cinema."
  -Les Inrockuptibles

"Corrosively austere...Achard ratchets up the tension with chilling control"
  -Variety

 

WINNER Best Directing & Jury Prize Locarno Intl Film Fest

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston)

The interest here is in how director Laurent Achard resolutely (with only one exception) restricts the narrative viewpoint to that of 10-year-old Martin, the film’s verbally inexpressive loner protagonist. So, in What Maisie Knew mode, we bear witness with Martin to the events taking place on the rundown family farm, events that are in the main beyond his understanding: his alcoholic, disturbed mother who locks herself away in her room; his vindictive grandmother; his weak father, who appears to be sleeping with his mother-in-law (Achard lets out this kind of narrative information in subtle, incremental stages); his gay would-be writer brother on the path to psychological meltdown.

But the strength of this restricted point-of-view also ends up being something of a weakness. We end up being too much in advance of Martin’s knowledge of the world around him (it’s different with literature – with Maisie James controls the feed of language to us so that we experience the events with Maisie but simultaneously understand more than she does). The result is that there is a certain plodding predictability to the later part of the film and its violent climax.

User comments  from imdb Author: moimoichan6 (moimoichan6@yahoo.fr) from Paris, France

It was apparently very hard for Laurent Achard to archive his strange cinematographic new project : almost ten years have passed since his last movie "Plus qu'hier, moins que demain", released in 1998. And when you see "Le dernier des fous", it's not really hard to understand why it took so much time to convinced a producer to put some money in the project : if its story is quite classic for a french "film d'auteur", its style is so arid (there is no music, but only sour, experimental, distorted and natural noises ; most of the time, the frame stay still, and the sequences could be very long, as if time stops for minutes, etc.), that it's certainly almost as difficult to watch than it was to make.

The movie deals with a family crisis (with everything a french psycho drama is able to offer : a crazy mother, a homosexual and depressive son, an absent father, and so on...) setting in the french country. All the events are view through the eyes of the younger soon, who passively watch his world collapsed. First interesting point is that the movie never leave this point of view, and make everything seems quite unreal, for we don't see an objective reality, but we're always in the mind of this strange little kid. And the fact that this is a mental movie allows the plot to take another direction, and then fallows stranger and original paths. That's why the all the movie is between realism and fantastic, and even naturalism and horror, and tries to stay in that border. But if this experience is very interesting, it's not really satisfying.

The story, the situations, even the style, has everything to see with french naturalism : the movie sometimes reminded me the psycho drama of Téchiné or Piallat, or even "Mes Petites amoureuses" from Eustache (because of some scenes between the child and his older neighbor). But the naturalist way is disturbed by a fantastic tone, where the characters seem deformed (like the mother or the maid of the neighbor), and sometimes look like monsters. You constantly have the feeling (like the older brother said), that something horrible is about to happened. Then, the movie is closer to realistic fantastic like Bava than classical french sociological study. The family really looks like a disturb bunch of freaks, almost as strange as the family of Miike's "Visitor Q".

But the thing is that the mixture doesn't really work, for, as the movie always tries to stay at the border of the two genres, it doesn't really fit anywhere, and seems somehow unfinished, for it doesn't actualized its pretensions. The naturalist way is like suppress by the fantastic elements, as if the movie couldn't assume to the end the fact that it is a french "film d'auteur". And the same thing goes with the fantastic and horror way : for it is also a realistic movie, nothing fantastic never really happened. It's as if the mix of the two elements, instead of increasing the impact of the two, suppress the both.

But there is no doubt, that if the movie is hard to watch (it's sometimes boring and annoying) it sticks to your mind for a long time, and some frames (the distorted face of the mother, the sour and loud atmosphere, the loneliness of the characters, etc.) comes to haunt you back, long after the screening.

Variety.com [Leslie Felperin]

 

A family's madness and despair are seen through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy in the bleak French-Belgian gothic drama "Demented." Gallic helmer Laurent Achard ("More Than Yesterday"), who won a best director gong at the recent Locarno fest for this, opts for a corrosively austere, score-free aesthetic that spotlights the intense perfs at its heart, especially from deadpan Julien Cochelin in the lead. However, despite its bravura qualities, plot trajectory may prove too much of a major downer for most auds. Pic will need fest exposure, critical support and further kudos to break out of niche asylums.

Adapted from 1967 novel "The Last of the Crazy People" by Canadian scribe Timothy Findley, script by Achard and Nathalie Najem seamlessly transposes action from mid-'60s small-town Canada to contempo rural France.

Book flows out of internal monologues from its young protagonist, but in the screen version, young Martin (Cochelin), rarely speaks. Still, his point-of-view almost entirely structures the action as he watches from the sidelines or listens from another room as his family falls apart.

In a large, dilapidated farmhouse that the brood clearly can't afford to keep up, Martin's semi-catatonic mother Nadege (Dominique Reymond, another memorably suffering mom in "Will It Snow for Christmas?") has locked herself in her room and won't even speak to her bewildered husband Jean (Jean-Yves Chatelais).

Unsympathetic to Nadege's plight, Jean's mother Rose (veteran Annie Cordy) has taken on the role of the lady of the house.

Meanwhile, Martin overhears the sound of kissing in the barn where his older brother Didier (Pascal Cervo, from "More Than Yesterday") has been having an affair with a neighbor boy, who is now planning to marry a local girl. News of the nuptials sends Didier into an alcoholic tailspin of despair.

Only Malika (Fettouma Bouamari), the family's Arab housekeeper, and occasionally Didier pay attention to the watchful, too-still Martin.

The discovery of a handgun in a neighbor's house lays the way for a last-act tragedy, but the tone is more akin to William Faulkner or Racine than a sermon on the evils of firearms from Michael Moore. Climax may prove either too harrowingly brutal or over-the-top for some auds' taste, but last scene's use of sound is nevertheless impressively expressionistic in itself. Before this, occasional stabs of welcome humor lighten the atmosphere.

Using mostly medium and long shots to create a detached sense of emotional distance, Achard ratchets up the tension with chilling control as the traumas pile up on Martin's head.

Only once does pic diverge from his viewpoint, for an unnecessary scene in which Didier burns his journals, but Cervo's acting is so strong here that the digression is forgivable. Cochelin -- with his wide-spaced eyes, one lid always slightly droopy -- has a mesmeric, otherworldly presence.

Achbar, Mark 

 

MANUFACTURING CONSENT:  NOAM CHOMSKY AND THE MEDIA

Canada  (165 mi)  1992  co-director:  Peter Wintonick

 

Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media   Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge

(Two sections with intermission. Part 1 : Thought Control in Democratic Societies [95 mins]. Part 2 : Activating Dissent [72 mins])

In Copenhagen with a couple of hours to kill before dinner, suffering from a cold, and a hangover, on a damp and dark day in December, I headed for the Film Institute to catch what I thought was going to be an 85-minute documentary on Noam Chomsky. 95 minutes later, the caption came up announcing the end of Part 1. Intermission, then the second half. Looking at my watch, I realised that, as restaurants in Copenhagen stop serving at 10, it was a choice between feeding my brain and feeding my stomach. After a very brief tussle between body parts – with conscience also making its presence felt on cinema’s behalf - the stomach prevailed.

I’d seen enough of Manufacturing Consent to know that it wasn’t going to get a great deal better in the second half – not that the first half was especially poor. It was just that I was tired of the dichotomy between the strength of Chomsky’s ideas – which are fascinating and urgent in whatever medium they’re expressed (I have a split 7” single he did with Bad Religion to prove that point) – and the often asinine weakness of their presentation, courtesy of Canadian directors Wintonick and Achbar.

The idea of editing together many of Chomsky’s appearances on worldwide TV and radio over 25 years is an excellent one, and the film-makers must be applauded for the great range of clips they’ve accumulated. But it’s very frustrating that whenever Chomsky is questioned or taken on, the ‘opposition’ is shown in very brief clips – especially since these moments, featuring the likes of Tom Wolfe and William F Buckley, are among the most entertaining in the whole film.

And why on earth did they Wintonick and Achbar feel it necessary to ‘improve’ Chomsky’s delivery with their array of cack-handed tricks and gimmicks. Whenever anybody says anything especially important, KEY PHRASES are flashed up on screen in block capitals, and they stay there for a few seconds to ensure that they’ve SUNK IN. This isn’t the only instance of the directors doing the opposite of what is Chomsky’s main message here, namely the importance of everyone thinking for themselves.

Seldom does Chomsky get to speak more than a couple of sentences, for instance before we cut to howlingly prosaic stock-footage or stills to show us exactly what he’s talking about, just in case we couldn’t work it out for ourselves. The style of the movie is a great shame, because its content is often dynamite – the East Timor section is powerful, sobering stuff, especially the to-camera footage recorded by Australian reporter Greg Shackleton the day before he was killed by the invading Indonesian army. But such riveting sequences sit very awkwardly the numerous larkish live-action improvisations, most memorably the “illustration” of how one newspaper bowdlerised another’s editorial on Timor. This is represented by ‘surgeons’ filleting out column inches on a mock operating-table and, as in often the case, the directors themselves appear unbilled.

While Wintonick isn’t quite a camera-hogging Nick Broomfield or Michael Moore figure, by the end of the first part of Manufacturing Consent, the audience may well be rather too familiar with his bulky frame and geeky haircut. The Michael Moore comparison is especially useful with regards to Manufacturing Consent, as the film shares much ground with Moore’s Bowling For Columbine. The latter’s razzle-dazzle approach is a million miles from Chomsky’s brand of forensic analysis, but Moore’s film feels much less like a case of preaching to the converted – how many non-Chomskyites are going to sit in an arthouse for three hours watching a movie called Manufacturing Consent? Or even, in my case, an hour and a half?

THE CORPORATION                                C+                   77

Canada  (145 mi)  2004  co-director:  Jennifer Abbott

 

Based on writer Joel Bakan’s book, “The Corporation:  The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” this film is loaded with information about the origins of corporations in America, originally limited to projects for the public good, with a limited time span, such as the building of a bridge, or a public works project.  But by the end of the 19th century, a Supreme Court case changed all that.  The 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War so no one could steal the property or possessions of slaves, who were lawfully granted equal protection under the law.  What changed, according to the film, was the granting of equal protection status to corporations in the same manner as individuals or persons.  Under these legal guidelines, corporations have been protected by the equal protection laws despite doing some terrible environmental damage, most of which was never revealed until after the damage had already been done. 
 
This film exposes some of the more dreadful human costs, like the current cancer epidemic we are experiencing where one of every two men gets cancer, for women, one of every three, or the privatization of water by Monsanto in the poorest regions of South America, prohibiting people from accumulating rainwater without paying to the company a surcharge, like rent, or IBM’s collaboration with Nazi’s in the Holocaust, actually providing weekly maintenance service for the machines used by the Gestapo to round up and exterminate the Jews, then collecting their profits after the war, or companies being allowed to establish patents on newly created molecular or biological life forms, so that eventually corporations own all forms of life except the human species, or the small punitive damages that have been collected from corporations that have been determined legally guilty of violating environmental protection laws, explaining that the cost of paying the fines and continuing to pollute is cheaper than changing their way of doing business.  The film does mention a book, “The Ecology of Commerce,” which changed one carpet manufacturing CEO’s life, as he vowed to change his corporation from one of “plundering the earth’s resources” to a more equalizing relationship with the planet, giving back as much as it takes.

 

The information is terrific, comparing the behavior of capitalist corporations to the anti-social behavior of psychopaths, and it includes commentary by Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore, also Naomi Klein who writes for The Nation, but the editing is dreadful.  At 145 minutes, it was nearly an hour too long, and it built to no dramatic conclusion, it just stuffed us full of information, which, after awhile, gets tiresome.  Unfortunately, viewers may be dizzy with over saturation by that time, and whatever effectiveness the film has information-wise has been lost by the innate inability to digest everything this film has to offer.  While there is power to this film, it is diluted by its own structure, which defeats its purpose.
 
The Corporation  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
 

Yes my friends, it is the anti-Fahrenheit. While I would have to be willfully blinkered to think we're getting the whole picture here, one of this film's strengths (aside from clear argumentation and meticulous research) is the fact that corporate insiders (former CEOs, child-marketing experts, "undercover" advertising specialists, commodities traders) line up to tell their side of the story. Some doozies are contained therein; the "nagging study" was a jaw-dropper. But more than what they say, their blithe indifference to the filmmakers' project tells the story, and shows why a film that takes on the corporate-capitalist structure is in some ways destined to succeed where Moore's political doc fails. What we witness in The Corporation is the reigning ideology, that "the market" is free of ideology, that like the rivers and the mountains and the sky, it just is. How could anyone have a problem with companies doing whatever it takes to make you buy their product? That's just "how things work," right? So, when we see a particularly sinister Monsanto training video about artificial hormones for dairy cows, what we're also seeing is the psychology of the profit motive, an utterly un-self-conscious and unapologetic (or, as the film claims, "psychopathic") avarice. Even right-wing politicians know there's "another side," so they typically mind their P's and Q's. But the market, it's believed, has no natural enemies, save a few anti-WTO yahoos with purple hair. And who cares what they think? Achbar and Abbott inevitably streamline some material to make their point go down more smoothly, but considering all the ground they cover, they have made a thorough, comprehensive film that seldom sacrifices depth of analysis. (The inclusion of Vandana Shiva, Naomi Klein, and a surprisingly thoughtful Michael Moore certainly helps.) The Corporation even has its own Lila Lipscombe figure in Roy Anderson, a repentant CEO who decides he only wants to make industrial carpet if he can do so without destroying the environment, a noble if quixotic goal. On a formal level, the kitschy Power-Point presentation style was both slyly humorous and an effective way to put their argument across. (The consistency of the soundtrack was also a plus. No ominous music popping up to tell you who the bad guys were; it was all ominousness, all the time, creating an overall mood rather than jerking the viewer around.) Also, the flat, computer-like female narrator (one Mikela J. Mikael) was really sexy. I think my door may be ajar.   

 

Adams, Joey Loren

 

COME EARLY MORNING            B+            90

USA  (97 mi)  2006 

 

A quiet, reflective film that beautifully captures the nuances of small town life in the rural South of Arkansas, shot by David Gordon Green's cinematographer Tim Orr, opening with the familiar song by Malcomb Holcombe, "Killing the Blues," from THE SLAUGHTER RULE.  Ashley Judd as Lucy is in nearly every scene wearing no make up as a tightly wound, highly independent woman who enjoys her space, drinking beer, and sleeping with most every guy in town, then acting like nothing matters.  The cast is superb, including Scott Wilson as her ultra reclusive father, who had a history of being a great guitar player, but needed to be drunk before he could play, who despite never leaving town has been all but absent in her life, Diane Ladd as the abused spouse in a pitiful relationship with her long term spouse where love dried up decades ago, the brilliant Tim Blake Nelson in a small but pitch perfect performance as Lucy's uncle who fills in the missing pieces of her past, and Stacy Keach as the aging contractor Lucy has been working with for the past 8 years. 

 

Lucy obviously drinks too much, spends aimless time in roadhouse bars, goes home with whoever and slinks home early the next morning without a shred of dignity left to her name.  In one of the best observed sequences, she and her father unpretentiously visit a Holy Roller southern Baptist church on Sundays, with a young but wise preacher, featuring plenty of rocking music and swaying souls, while another sequence where she volunteers at the local nursing home gets swallowed up in the final edit, losing a bit of the continuity of the story.  Into Lucy's life walks Cal, Jeffrey Donovan, who is so straight he could easily be Bo from BUS STOP, something of a good 'ol boy car nut from out of town who unexpectedly treats her kindly, embarrassing Lucy into not just walking away for a change, though she's obviously uncomfortable with relationships.  Her cool, mysterious and privately respectful room-mate, Laura Prepon, a tall, beautiful blond who could be the lead in another film, urges her to take this guy more seriously, opening up avenues that never existed before. 

 

There's an interesting country soundtrack, a nicely paced rhythm with interweaving plotlines that never overreach, that becomes heartfelt and emotionally involving while maintaining a politeness and texture of the locale, even including the bored, haggard looking grocery clerk smoking a cigarette, continuing a neverending conversation with each customer that she knows by name, in a town where no one is a stranger, no one carries any secrets, and most people have been up and down every road many times before.  This is an honest, intimate, low-key examination of a woman's journey through the quaint familiarity of her town, hoping to find some resemblance of self respect on her road to redemption.   

 

Adamson, Andrew

 

SHREK                                                          B                     87

USA  (90 mi)  2001   co-dir:  Vicky Jenson

 

What felt like a summer special effects movie, a clever spoof on the fairy tale formula, actually did a masterful job changing gears and tenderly bringing Shrek and Princess Fiona together in love.  I felt those sequences, blended together by the John Cale version of the Leonard Cohen song “Hallelujah,” was heartfelt and masterfully done, which brought the film to a rousing and satisfying conclusion.

 

SHREK 2                                                      C                     76

USA  (105 mi)  2004   co-dir:  Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon 

 

Not as unique, energized, or as well made as the original, the remake is much cornier, features a new character, the gallant and noble Puss n Boots, voice by Antonio Banderas, but this new character’s hilarious screen time is diminished by the evil antics of the Fairy Godmother, who, unfortunately, is something of a bore and dominates this film.  Too much time is spent away from the real characters, as they are cast under a spell, and all look a little too goofy to be liked or believable.  In the end, the film resembles CHICKEN RUN, as there is a prisoner assembly line creating the Fairy Godmother’s potions, and TOY STORY, as the old Disney characters of Pinocchio, the Three Bears, the Three Little Pigs, and the Three Blind Mice, who, as it turns out, aren’t really blind, come to the rescue, a scenario with results that are all too predictable.  Also, the music isn’t nearly so inventive, or as woven into the fabric of the film, as in the original, although there is a terrific rendition of “Living La Vida Loca.”  However, the action can be fast and sweet, some of the characters loveable, and there are some terrific sequences.  It is astounding to me that this film was chosen for entry into competition at the 2004 Cannes Film Fest, where it was obviously in over its head.

 

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA:  THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE     D+       65

USA  (140 mi)  2005

 

A commercialized war movie, an interesting beginning that goes awry, that turns into a needless epic battle scene, (which is only a few sentences in the book), with children leading a herd of followers into slaughter, which, in a children’s movie, is pretty atrocious and left me aghast.  Opening in a Nazi bombing raid on England in WWII, where 4 children are shipped off into the country to a huge estate for their own protection, they soon discover a portal into another world through an upstairs wardrobe closet filled with fur coats.  Initially discovered by the youngest of them, in a terrifically appealing performance by Georgie Henley as Lucy, the only one of the children with any sense of trust or appreciation for the forces of the unknown, who thinks of the needs of others before her own, while her siblings are dull, stuck-in-the-mud, one dimensional characters with little to no personality, where they supposedly discover the meaning of family, where they all must learn to stick together.  But this family, unfortunately, remains totally unappealing throughout the entire film saga and never learns anything other than what they’re told to learn, as it’s all been prophesied before they even entered this magical kingdom.

 

Tilda Swinton is terrific as an evil ice witch who has presided over Narnia, turning it into a frozen kingdom for 100 years, running it as a police state controlled by her pack of wolves threatening harm to anyone that doesn’t do as they’re told, with her magical spear that freezes victims into stone, permanently revealing their last terrified expression, until the humans accidentally enter the kingdom and the lands slowly begin to thaw.  Lucy is kidnapped by a fawn who has been ordered to bring any humans, known as the sons of Adam or Eve, to the evil White Witch, but he is won over by Lucy’s kindness, so he helps protect her.  Enter Lucy’s second oldest brother, a dimwitted, insecure twit who falls into the witches trap and starts ratting out on his family and anyone else for a few pieces of sweets, a Judas figure if ever there was one.  Add the eldest brother, supposedly handsome and courageous, but hesitant and a complete disappointment in his role, and eldest sister, a whining bore of a girl who was wretchedly awful in each and every scene in the film, and we have heroes of the most artificial kind, the kind you’re inclined to root against.  They, along with the aid of a few talking beavers who help the family rally around their missing brother, attempt to reunite their family before they can all return home, helped along the way by a surprise visit by Santa Claus who bears gifts of magical protection.  But rather than return home, events cause them to reach for a higher cause in this all too obvious battle for good and evil, as too many in the animal kingdom have stuck their necks out in their behalf, many ending up turned to stone by the witches spear, yet these siblings feebly keep thinking only of themselves, all except Lucy, of course.  After a lion, the leader of the pack sacrifices his life for the Judas among them, a hellish war breaks out where one side is cretins, giants, dwarfs, one-eyed gnomes and cyclops, and grotesque disfigured horrors of all shapes against valiant, heroic, self-sacrificing warriors, all good against all evil, hardly a fair fight.  After the resurrection, yes, I repeat, the resurrection of the lion, the tide turns and good prevails.  Eventually, all who sacrificed their lives for good were resurrected, not just the lion, while the evil just remained dead.  Overly simplistic?  Absolutely, but the story was at least intriguing until the children became battle leaders, which they were in no way suited for, so it was all downhill at that point.  I did love to see the cheetahs lead the charge into battle against the Ice Witch’s chariot driven by polar bears, highlighted by an aerial view of the battlefield, but other than Lucy’s appeal, that was it.  Talking animals were highly decorated with moral colors in this thoroughly banal C.S. Lewis Bible story passing for a Christian fantasy fable.
 
The Chronicles of Narnia : The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe   SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE NAZIS, by Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge

 

Ade, Maren

 

The Personal View  biography (Google translation) from Christine Nord from North  (Translate this page)

Maren Ade came on 12 Dezember 1976 in Karlsruhe zur Welt. Even with 14 years of experimenting with the video camera, and at 18 she made with her then-boyfriend a first short film. From 1998 to 2004 she studied at the Academy of Television and Film in Munich, in 2003 she made her final film, "The forest for the trees" , which premiered at the Hof Film Days. While still a student, she founded with her fellow student Janine Jackowski the firm "complicit Movie. In addition to her own films, she has hot movie "Hotel Very Welcome" produced Sonja, in which backpackers in Asia is about. 2003 Maren Ade moved to Berlin in Berlin with other filmmakers and filmmakers such as Ulrich Köhler, Henner Winckler or Valeska Grisebach it is in close connection. "All Others" is her second feature film, it's about a couple on holiday, the meeting with another couple from the balance brought by the. Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger play the leading roles. "All others" is this coming Monday in the Berlinale competition show where the film 17 other productions for the Golden Bears compete with.

german films - Maren Ade

 

Maren Ade - filmportal.de  brief bio

 

Maren Ade  Mubi

 

Interview with Maren Ade .: the Lamp  Catherine MacLennan interview from The Lamp, November 2004

 

Berlinale 2009: Interview with Maren Ade  Kevin Lee interview February 25, 2009

 

“A delicate psychological dramaturgy”  Ruediger Suchsland interview from Cineuropa, June 11, 2009

 

Village Voice (Aaron Hillis) review  Hillis interviews the director, September 29, 2009

 

Couples Chaos: German Director Maren Ade Talks About Everyone Else ...  Scott Foundas feature and interview from LA Weekly, October 28, 2009

 

Maren Ade: 'Toni Erdmann's humour comes out of a big desperation ...  Jonathan Romney interview from The Guardian, January 21, 2017

 

Maren Ade - Wikipedia

 

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (Der Wald vor lauter Bäumen)   B                     88

Germany  (81 mi)  2003

 

An unusual film, told in a distinctly measured manner as we are witness to a young woman’s walk through her own psychological purgatory, somewhat of her own making, but she hasn’t a clue how she got there, and even less of an idea how to get out, living in a perpetual state of limbo.  Disturbing as it is, Ade forces us to examine the limits of our own human paralysis to things that make us uncomfortable.  Ade herself comes from a family of teachers, and using a wrenchingly realistic, near documentary style, examines the life of a substitute teacher who is forced to take over a class with some of the more difficult kids in the middle of the school year, an assignment she initially welcomes, but becomes more and more withdrawn, unable to face her own inner shame at the way she is ridiculed and mistreated, and instead puts on a happy face, actually inventing friends she doesn’t have and fabricating things to say just to avoid having to be honest with others, which places her in an extremely uncomfortable and peculiarly isolated position, represented by her retreat from the teacher’s lounge into what looks like a broom closet where she mysteriously eats alone and her habit of staring out her apartment window with a pair of binoculars.  The performance by the socially awkward Eva Lobau is entirely believable.   
 
New in town, she initially welcomes her neighbors with a sunny disposition and home made Schnapps, which is hard to refuse, and greets her fellow teachers with a speech about bringing a “breath of fresh air” to the school, suggesting she is attuned with the latest teaching methods.  But when her kids are out of control and continue to make fun of her, her condition deteriorates and she becomes more and more pathetic, which affects her life outside school as well, where she becomes even more psychologically unstable, as represented by her obsessive zeal to have at least one friend, where she literally stalks her next door neighbor in order to fabricate the appearance of coincidence, but once the neighbor catches on, and once her fellow teachers catch on, what recourse does she have?  The end is a perfect culmination for her dilemma, as her fall from grace is poetically revealed in an eerie final shot which may initially draw gasps from the viewers, but when the director prolongs the shot, changing the entire context of the scene, it will likely provoke only more questions.  Some critics who fully understand and appreciate the mechanics of making of that final shot are actually calling it hopeful. 
 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List - Cine-File.info  Scott Pfeiffer

Writer/director Maren Ade is the talk of the town for TONI ERDMANN; she's an artist who's earned her comparisons to Renoir and Cassavetes. Here is an opportunity to see her first feature on the big screen. Her films are examinations of behavior—psychological case studies—and connoisseurs of character-focused films will note she was a fine director of actors right out of the gate. This cringeworthy psychodrama traces the breakdown of a naive, awkward, rather square young schoolteacher (Eva Löbau), who moves to a new town in the middle of the school year. Her professed hope of bringing "a breath of fresh air" immediately annoys the seasoned teachers, and the recalcitrant kids greet her nervous, overly solicitous manner with scorn and abuse. She hasn't the gift of authority. Her attempts to befriend the woman next door (Daniela Holtz), who initially humors her, are needy and puppy-like. Ade's camera style evokes the then-contemporary The Office, though sometimes she gets such low angles she seems to be down in the floor. Here, the embarrassing situations are not played for laughs. The miserable, lonely teacher can't find the humor and warmth that saves the characters in TONI ERDMANN. Still, the Ade hallmarks are here: the intense collaboration between director and actors yielding rich, precise realism in the performances; the behaviors and anxieties we recognize with a pang; an approach to character that allows us to infer a whole life from glances and gestures. Conflicts in Ade aren't melodramatic. Rather, they arise from people's natural tendency to dissemble, as in life. She refuses to take sides. While we empathize with the shy teacher's yearning for connection—she so wants people to like her—she's also a bitter, self-sabotaging buttinsky, and even a bit unstable, spying on her neighbor and cluelessly bestowing unwanted attention. (All three of Ade's features are marked by uncomfortable "what are you doing here?" situations.) Still, Ade's strategies are aimed at getting as close to this character as possible, and the film has a wonderful, magical ending which I choose to read as a ray of hope for her. It is audacious and open, a mystery, and it announces an important career.

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Northern Lights Film Festival

For roughly 75 minutes of its brisk 81-minute running time, The Forest for the Trees is nothing more or less than a sharply-written, well-observed, DV-shot, small-scale character study of a 27-year-old teacher struggling to adapt to a new school in sleepy Karlsruhe. When we first see Melanie Proschle (Eva Lobau), she's breaking up with Bernd (Achim Enchelmaier), her boyfriend of eight years, and departing for a different life in a different town. Like the corny joke about the cross-eyed teacher, Melanie has difficulty controlling her pupils – and her lack of social skills mean shehas problems making new friends. Seemingly oblivious to the eager advances of her work-colleague Thorsten (Jan Neumann), she instead fixes upon her (comparatively) glamorous neighbour Tina (Daniela Holtz), who works in a fashion boutique. Melanie's devious campaign to win Tina's friendship seems to pay dividends – for a time…

If the film ended abruptly at the 75-minute mark, it would still be a "should-see" – accomplished and engrossing, though nothing too far out of the ordinary. Let's say 7 out of 10. But the final three minutes (before the credits) are something else again – lifting The Forest for the Trees firmly into the "must-see" category. Completely out of the blue, and with the simplest of means, Ade delivers a genuine coup de cinema: thrillingly transcendent, disarmingly magical, transfiguring everything that's gone before (the closest recent parallel is with another German picture, Christian Petzold's The State I Am In). This review will not reveal the details of these closing minutes, but will instead support Canadian critic Mark Peranson who, in a review which astutely anaylses the progress of Ade's debut from student-project obscurity to globetrotting festival-fave, acclaims "the best ending of the year."

At a stroke, Ade dissolves whatever objections we may have harboured to her subject-matter and approach: the haplessly square, dowdy, jittery Melanie has been scrutinised and dissected rather like a dysfunctional lab-rat, a species lacking some crucial chromosome and dimly aware of the deficiency. Lobau's performance is, if anything, too convincing: there's a genuinely uncomfortable awkwardness about the way Melanie instinctively does the worst possible thing in any given situation, a portion of which derives from a suspicion that Ade is being patronising and condescending to those less fortunate than herself. But while we may never actually like Melanie, or might even squirm in her company, as the film goes on we do see she's deserving of sympathy – she's clearly struggling to cope with the ending of her relationship with Bernd (though she herself 'broke it off'), and is plopped down into a tricky set of pupils mid-way through a term. Melanie lacks support: both in her private and professional lives, and if nothing else she deserves some admiration for the way she so valiantly struggles to hold everything together. It's ironic, then, that the moment when we really identify with and understand her character is the glorious moment at the end when she finally realise that, sometimes, you have to just – let – go.

Strictly Film School review   Acquarello 

 

CultureCartel.com (John Nesbit) review [3/5]  also seen here:  Old School Reviews [John Nesbit]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Chris Parry) review [3/5]

 

Film Intuition  Jen Johans

 

DVD Talk (Don Houston) dvd review [3/5]

 

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson) review

 

Reel Film Reviews (David Nusair) capsule review

 

Variety (Eddie Cockrell) review

 

Guardian/Observer

 

BBCi - Films  Jamie Woolley

 

Time Out London review   

 

EVERYONE ELSE (Alle Anderen)                      A-                    94

Germany  (119 mi)  2009

 

The ultimate break-up film, shown here in a deliciously slow burn of insecurities, everything that the highly acclaimed, warm and nostalgia-tinged Olivier Assayas SUMMER HOURS (2008) pretended to be but was “not,” a scathing exposé of social convention, showing the hypocrisy and emptiness of a couple that, like the Wheeler’s in REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (2008), want to be unconventional, that doesn’t want to be like “everyone else.”  An extremely provocative film, well-written and intelligently directed by Ade, choosing unusually ordinary or uninteresting lead characters as her subject, a mirror image for the audience to identify with, a self-centered and bored German middle class couple, yet they are onscreen the entire length of the film together, rarely more than arms length away from one another.  With six years between films, plenty of time has passed, yet the distinctive finale of Ade’s last film is still fresh in the viewer’s minds, as the disturbing ambiguity remains unsettling to this day.  In THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003), all signs indicate a perfectly ordinary middle class setting, but as the director gets inside the head of a well-meaning teacher who can’t control her class, signs point to a psychological breakdown which the director meticulously details, where one might call Ade an on-the–fringe miserablist, though not full-fledged like Austrian Ulrich Seidl.  Both show a fondness for documentary realism, then embellishing the prevailing social order with remarkably downbeat unpleasantries.  As French director Claude Chabrol passed away this week, I’d like to point out the similarities with his style early in his career, especially the amazingly realistic LES BONNES FEMMES (1960), which for all practical purposes was a breezy lightweight comedy until the final reel which completely re-contextualized everything that came before.  That film was half a century ago, targeting the boredom of lower class working girls all at the same dead end job, an appliance store with few if any customers, while this film sets its sights on the economically successful, well-to-do German middle class, where they encounter so few hardships in their lifetimes that they lose the ability to express dissatisfaction, as they’re always expected to be happy doing whatever they choose, yet freedom becomes a weight they carry on their shoulders.  What’s compelling about the film is the evaporation of the supposed happiness that exists between this couple that hops in the sack at one moment and then has next to nothing to say afterwards or even well into the next day, where their specialty becomes cutting each other to shreds, where they fall under a blistering attack of acid-tinged criticisms hurled with the precision and accuracy of heat-seeking missiles. 

 

Lars Eidinger is Chris, who is the picture of proper rearing, as he’s intelligent, well-mannered, reserved, polite, soft-spoken, self-aware, yet distant, vacuous, aloof, and unreachable, the kind of guy who always has a book in his hand but has a hard time expressing his ideas.  He fancies himself as an architect, but he hasn’t really broken into the field just yet and has few job offers, so he’s likely still supported by his parents, who are unseen, but their presence is everywhere, as the couple is vacationing at his parent’s villa on the island of Sardinia, and the house reflects his parent’s bourgeois taste.  Birgit Minichmayr is Gitta, the much more unconventional and outgoing between the two, an impulsive girl that has no problem whatsoever speaking what’s on her mind, and can be seen in an early scene interacting with the young daughter of Chris’s sister, urging her to communicate her real feelings, to come right out and say “I hate your guts,” or “I despise you,” eventually pretending to be shot by this kid, falling into the pool acting dead.  It’s a humorous scene the way it’s presented, especially with a charming little girl who plays along, but the same theme continues to play out in various permutations between the couple for the rest of the film.  Their interplay, however, is so naturalistic and their real feelings so disguised that at times you can barely tell there’s tension in the air.  And that’s exactly how the characters see it as well, blind to what’s obvious, and not looking to dig deep enough to uncover what’s under the surface.  The focus of the camera is intimacy, zeroing in on an accumulation of tiny details while capturing the couple in close proximity, always within eye contact, but rarely actually looking at each other.  Gitta continuously confesses her love and never leaves this guy’s side, annoying him with her suffocating presence, yet she’s obviously well-intentioned and has a sexy charm about her possessiveness.  Chris, on the other hand, is more indecisive and aimless and needs room, plenty of it, and the island itself is a visual paradise with what appears to be tropical trees, a jungle-like forest with high grass, and an ocean nearby.  You’d think anyone could get lost in that Edenesque atmosphere, but with these two, it’s like they’re either the first or last two people remaining on earth just waiting for someone to hand them an apple, as they couldn’t be less optimistic about their future together. 

 

It’s interesting the way Ade chooses to test this couple, as it’s with a stereotypical boorish German male, Hans, actually named Hans-Jochen Wagner, an established architect who’s loud, obnoxious, opinionated and totally condescending, yet he’s continually seeking out Chris as if they’re old school friends.  Chris, on the other hand, has a near phobic desire not to be seen by Hans and is successful for half the film, but once they meet, it’s clear Hans is handing them the apple, as Chris immediately defers to Han’s smug masculinity and sucks the toxic fumes of his pig-headed and overbearing nature, accepting without return a volley of insults directed at himself and Gitta, all with a patronizing air of superiority, where Gitta rises to his defense, but is then abandoned by Chris who thinks her unconventional and outspoken honesty is out of line.  Hans calls her a Brünnhilde defending her man, a reference to the sword carrying, war-like maiden in Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which is nothing more than insulting name-calling, one German stereotyping another with an unflattering Nazi-tinged label.  But Chris seems to think it’s OK for Hans to joke around with demeaning insults all told with a smile, but not for Gitta to call him on his noxious contempt for others.  In other words, it’s socially acceptable to insult and disparage others so long as it’s only words, where the manner in which it’s spoken trumps the meaning behind it.  Chris then falls in line with the odious and egotistic behavior of Hans and leaves Gitta dangling on her own.  In perhaps the scene of the film, Chris invites Hans and his more shallow pregnant girlfriend Sana (Nicole Marischka) over for dinner, a social makeup for Gitta’s previous overly blunt outspokenness, where after dinner they show the couple his parent’s villa, carrying drinks up into his mother’s room where Hans immediately disparages his mother’s taste as well, but she’s got a “cool” stereo, which plays the German version of Barry Manilow or Neil Diamond, a live version of Grönemeyer singing a typically popular mainstream love song, “Ich hab dich lieb.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VlmB3YWnc8)  Sana reveals her middle-of-the-road mainstream streak as she’s enchanted by the nostalgic simplicity of idealized love, where she and Hans embrace all affectionately over the cheesy lyrics while Chris and Gitta, shown on each side of the perfectly composed frame, may as well be light years away.  That shot alone expresses with poetic clarity just how difficult it is to authentically connect with someone else, because this couple wouldn’t be caught dead with cheap sentiment, but without it, they’re lost in a no man’s land with nothing to connect them together, each stuck inside their own heads instead of one another’s.  Revealing a bonanza of rarely seen truths onscreen, there’s something reminiscent of Bruno Dumont’s contrasting 29 PALMS (2003), featuring a superficial relationship held together by nothing much more than sex, shown as not much of a defense on a desert-like road to nowhere, but here in the luscious palms of a tropical paradise, these much more sharp edged and carefully nuanced characters actually attempt to communicate but fail just as miserably.

 

Time Out New York review [3/5]  Keith Uhlich

Maren Ade’s difficult relationship drama drops us into the middle of a sun-dappled, nondescript locale (it appears to be a summer vacation home) where several perplexing sequences unfold: Gitti (Minichmayr) has a hilarious “argument” with a child, ordering the girl to scream “I hate you!” with increasing venom, while her boyfriend, Chris (Eidinger), smiles from afar. Then Chris shapes a piece of gingerroot into a bulbous-nose effigy that he playfully uses with Gitti as a stand-in for his penis. It all feels vaguely ritualistic, the actions of a pair of lovers who have an instinctive, rawly intimate knowledge of each other.

The writer-director keeps us inside this thirtysomething German couple’s sequestered headspace for much of the film’s first half, attuning us to their private games and habits. Only as they venture into the outside world (the Edenic locale is eventually identified as Sardinia) do we get a sense of their lives beyond the relationship, mostly via a blustery acquaintance, Hans (Wagner), whom they’re trying to avoid.

Everyone Else’s power comes from the accrual of seemingly disparate incidents; a multifaceted portrait of the duo (and a larger examination of the ins and outs of any relationship) emerges amid all the sex, fighting, affection and insults. Moments that most movies would present with a forced dramatic flourish—as when Gitti threatens Hans’s wife, Sana (Marischka), with a kitchen knife—pass by with a strange sobriety that are as likely to intrigue as they are to put off. The film is an impressive effort, yet often a trying one.

The NYC Movie Guru [Avi Offer]

In German and Italian with subtitles. Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and her boyfriend, Chris (Lars Eidinger), spend their holiday vacation at the villa of Chris’ parents in Sardinia, Italy. He works as an architect and she’s a publicist for a rock band. At least for a while, they seem like a normal, happy couple who love one another affectionately, but there’s much more to their relationship than meets the eye. Their vacation place looks so serene and picturesque that you’ll probably wonder whether some kind of event, perhaps a sinister one, might stir things up a bit and startle the tranquility. Writer/director Maren Ade doesn’t provide you with a wealth of information about the lives of Gitti and Chris because she trusts that you, the audience, is intelligent enough to gather the bits and pieces of details along the way and, most importantly, to pay close attention to their conversations. Ade achieves a quietly absorbing sense of realism by unfolding their relationship so gradually and organically. You may not find yourself liking neither of the two, but at least they come across as complex, sensitive human beings. When Gitti and Chris meet another couple, Sana (Nicole Marischka) and Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner), the dynamics of their relationship unravel even further and, in uncontrived ways, you notice them growing apart more rapidly from one another. Will they be able to patch up their relationship or is it completely hopeless for them? In reality, relationships take a lot of work and, fortunately, Maren Ade shows that she understands that because the answer to that question isn’t quite as simple and easy as you think it is. Even when Gitti behaves bizarrely or does something unexpected, her actions always uncover a new layer of her relationship with Chris while keeping you intrigued to continue discovering and peeling more layers. At a running time of 2 hours, Everyone Else manages to be quietly absorbing, mature and unpretentious with well-nuanced performances and lush cinematography.

Cannes '09: Day Six   Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 19, 2009

 

And now for something completely awesome. (Finally!) I haven’t attended the Berlin Film Festival since 2001, but one of the nice things about Cannes is that virtually all of the major Berlin titles screen in the Market, allowing one to play catch-up on days when the main festival’s sidebar pickings look relatively slim. I’d heard mixed things about François Ozon’s Ricky, about a flying baby (no kidding), but couldn’t resist taking a look for myself; while I appreciated Ozon’s matter-of-fact approach to such a fantastic premise, the movie ultimately makes no damn emotional sense. I left shrugging. (C+, if you’re wondering.) But Everyone Else, the second feature from Germany’s Maren Ade, pretty much wiped the floor with me, to the point where I was grateful that nobody else stuck around for the closing credits, so that I didn’t need to hide my surprised tears. Ade’s little-seen debut, The Forest for the Trees—a singleminded “horror film” (not literally) about a lonely young woman with zero comprehension of social boundaries; look for it on DVD from Film Movement—had knocked me for a loop a few years ago, but I was still unprepared for this razor-sharp dissection of a relationship in crisis, which somehow manages to be at once plotless and gorgeously structured, its theme emerging slowly and taking on additional heft with each successive, apparently rambling scene. Birgit Minichmayr (Downfall, Falling) and Lars Eidinger (who I’d never seen before) play a couple so intent on avoiding bourgeois cliché that they effectively choloroform any hint of genuine affection; without pounding you over the head, Ade makes a case for the importance of kitsch in romance, for the need to embrace with your lover the same gestures and platitudes that so nauseate you when you see them indulged by others. And yet the film is way thornier than that, contradicting itself in fascinating ways at every turn. (Both actors are stupendous.) Ade is clearly a major new voice in world cinema; I expect to see her at Cannes many times in future, and not in the Market, either. Grade: A-

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Ben Sachs

Chris and Gitti, a sensitive couple with little discernible ambition, come apart during a lazy vacation in Sardinia, though their dissolution isn't the result of violent flare-ups so much as personal insecurities and deep-seated passive-aggression. In synopsis, Maren Ade's second feature sounds like the sort of low-budget relationship drama we've come so accustomed to forgetting in recent years; and, indeed, its opening stretches look out over a great pitfall of solipsism. But EVERYONE ELSE displays rare patience and its insights are well worth waiting for. It becomes apparent, for instance, that this seemingly aimless film is actually moving at a pace unique to its main characters--who, like many newly-serious couples, operate on their own time, governed in part by libido but just as much by curiosity, a willingness to drop everything for the revelation of a lover's secret, a shared discovery, a new inside joke. (It should be noted that Ade is as deliberate in her handling of time as Bela Tarr.) It's also revealed that what appeared to be the filmmakers' solipsism is actually the characters' denial of certain hard realities; and, in fact, this revelation becomes the driving force of the entire film. Chris and Gitti are well aware of the middle-class lifestyle they're trying to escape--It's the source of the film's title--as well as darker philosophic issues most everyone spends adult life trying to avoid. The film contains several monologues of self-examination reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's chamber dramas, probably the closest point-of-reference for Ade's psychological examination, and the leads respond to the material with performances of uncommon complexity. Needless to say, this sort of filmmaking is an acquired taste (It requires that you see universal angst even in these thirty-something fuck-ups), but Ade and her cast are so thorough in their characterizations that even irritated viewers should be impressed with their perceptiveness; those receptive to their mission should find this downright unsettling. Once the couple's happiness is proven to be unsustainable, EVERYONE ELSE proceeds with the anxious tension of a horror movie. Every revelation of character carries a sense of unspoken threat, a nervousness that's in no way diminished by the sexiness of the leads or the edenic palette of Bernhard Keller's 35mm photography.

The Onion A.V. Club review [A-]  Scott Tobias

In her extraordinary 2003 debut, The Forest For The Trees, German director Maren Ade charted the emotional breakdown of an idealistic young teacher who leaves her provincial home for the city, but isn’t socially equipped for the transition. Ade sympathizes with her plight, but isn’t given to assigning blame in any direction—while the teacher endures cruelties large and small from her students and contemporaries, she’s culpable, too, in provoking those cruelties with her immaturity and passive-aggression. So what Ade is really examining is bad chemistry, and the emotional fallout that happens when people don’t fit in.

The idea of “fitting in” is embedded in the title of Ade’s equally sharp, uncompromising follow-up film Everyone Else, about a couple struggling for self-definition against bourgeois norms. Other than their looks, enhanced by the lovely backdrop of a working vacation in Sardinia, there’s nothing remotely ingratiating about the couple (or the movie), but plenty of truths to be gleaned from their relationship. Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger are an odd pair in the best of times—she an open, free-spirited, sometimes childish sprite, he a struggling architect who’s charming but distant, a little too cool for school. When they spend a little time with another, more settled couple (Hans-Jochen Wagner and Nicole Marischka), their fundamental differences are thrown into a harsh light.

Everyone Else is the quintessential breakup movie, which means the kindnesses, cute gestures, and happily-ever-afters of a typical screen romance are replaced by pettiness, ugly slights, backbiting, and the kind of hurt that only the most intimate are capable of inflicting on each other. Naturally, it can be unpleasant, and the toughness of Ade’s film is exacerbated by her refusal to apply some cookie-cutter structure to lead this couple more gracefully to the exit. Everyone Else isn’t formless, but Ade gives all this messy dysfunction plenty of room to play out, all while scoring subtle points about the lengths people will (or won’t) go to conform to the expectations of their lovers and their societies. There’s a slight imbalance in how Ade directs our sympathies—Minichmayr is more likeable than Eidinger, whose indecision is matched only by his remoteness and pretension—but Everyone Else unloads a fusillade of truth bombs about those painfully specific moments when communication breaks down and couples start talking past each other. It isn’t pretty to witness, but the pain of it smarts.

Maren Ade - Cinema Scope  Kent Jones

I have rarely been more surprised by a movie than I was by Maren Ade’s Everyone Else (2009). Most films that good come with some kind of buzz, and this one was undoubtedly no exception, but the buzz from Berlin had not reached me. I had never seen The Forest for the Trees (2003), her extremely sharp first film, and I had no idea what to expect. I saw the movie with my old friend Claire Denis in Buenos Aires, where it was in competition at BAFICI the year we were on the jury. Halfway through the screening, in the middle of the hiking scene, the projector broke down. When the lights came on, Claire turned to me and asked, “Is this as good as I think it is?” I could only nod.

Who was this filmmaker, who had the daring and the tenacity to track what was obviously her own experience down to the most minute level of intimacy and shared embarrassment? How could she bear the weight of going so uncomfortably deep into the terrible power imbalances that can exist between couples and remain happily unacknowledged until the “anderen” turn up? Where did she summon such a taut balance between tenderness and absolute ruthlessness, the kind of ruthlessness every filmmaker needs and few have the courage to exercise, the kind of tenderness few allow themselves the ability to summon on the set? And, to pose a dumbstruck question that Maren has undoubtedly been asked in countless Q&As by now, how did she work with her cameraman and her actors? When the film was over, Claire and I were both speechless.

A few nights later, I went to a festival dinner at a restaurant across town. Someone told me that Maren was there. What was I expecting? Let’s just say that I was not expecting this beautiful, self-possessed woman who resembled a young Lynn Redgrave. I remember that Maren and her producer Janine Jackowski had both been robbed at knifepoint just a few hours before, but if they hadn’t told me I would never have guessed it. Maren, in particular, was as cheerfully indomitable as an Austen heroine.

What will she do next? I have no idea. But if I had to point to one young filmmaker in the world whose future seems to me the brightest, it would be Maren. Everyone Else is a film of terrible power and absolute freedom, and it’s obvious that it’s only the beginning of the exploration.

One last thing: it’s also hilarious.

Film-Forward.com  Yan Litovsky

The mark of originality may not be the ability to generate novel content, but the gift of interpreting an age-old scenario in a fresh and intelligent way. By this account, Everyone Else—a deceptively simple German film about a young relationship—is stunningly original. In a style at once hyper-realistic and polished, director Maren Ade explores the nooks and crannies of a couple’s interactions over the course of a lazy vacation in Sardinia. Chris (Lars Eidinger), an idealistic architect struggling with his ambition, and Gitti (Brigit Minichmayr), a laid-back, salt of the earth music publicist, appear to be an ostensibly happy match. They enjoy a seemingly recently found comfort with one another, but without an indication of the length of their affair, the audience is recruited as spying anthropologists, challenged to diagnose the nature of the bond. We look for clues in their fights, their sex, their silences, recognizing universal tensions and completely unique nuances.

Unlike a mumblecore film that revels in reality for reality’s sake, this documentation of a human interaction is loaded with analytic takeaways. At the core of their relationship is a struggle between private affection and the public projection of their image (as a couple and as individuals). In the confines of their house, Chris and Gitti share a silly, whimsical connection. Here, the significant differences in their background and personalities—her impulsive energy contrasts to his quiet self-reflection—are softened and ignored. Chris and Gitti flourish in each other’s company, putting the rest of the world, and their irreconcilable character traits, on hold. But in public, where real or imagined expectations are triggered by every passerby, the couple’s festering resentment and incongruous self-consciousness introduces tension and self-doubt. The aspect of their relationship that suffers most in the light of day is the couple’s assumption of gender roles. Gitti has a simpler, matter-a-fact personality that suggests masculinity, while Chris’ overly reflective self-doubt and passive nature place him in a more feminine role.

Everyone Else boldly addresses the unsavory desire to brashly present ourselves as a fully realized member of a social type—be it bohemian or posh, intellectual or homespun. In an age where authenticity and trueness-to-self (whatever that means) are revered, this inclination for self-invention is somewhat embarrassing and rarely explored with such care and honesty. The acting is equally sincere. Chris and Gitti reenact the natural ebb and flow of tension in a relationship, sometimes triggered by a microscopic change in mood. Despite the profound insights, the thrill of reality recreated somehow makes Everyone Else a light, and at times even joyful, experience.

Everyone Else (Alle Anderen)   Jonathan Romney at Screendaily (registration required)

Writer-director Maren Ade made a strong impression with her 2003 debut, the spare, video-shot The Forest For The Trees. Everyone Else, her less focused, somewhat more conventional follow-up is essentially an intense two-hander, with supporting roles, about a mismatched couple whose introspective romance reaches an understated crisis while on holiday. The film’s prime attraction is a prickly, suggestive character sketch by female lead Birgit Minichmayr, but, while festivals may take to Ade’s distinctive dramatic sensibility, the film’s overall talkiness, sparse action and quintessentially art-house sleepiness will make theatrical prospects tenuous.

Set in Sardinia, the film traces the relationship between architect Chris (Eidinger) and his apparently newish girlfriend Gitti (Minichmayr). Chris is failing to flourish at his work - largely, it seems, as a result of his self-pitying hesitancy, which sometimes passes as idealism, although Gitti sees through it. The couple lead an insular life, acting out private micro-dramas, and generally being disparaging about the other ‘normal’ people they prefer to avoid. The pair see themselves as somehow different to the bourgeois order - although Gitti’s status as a rebel looks somewhat tenuous when we discover she’s nothing more radical than a music business PR.

Out shopping, Chris runs into an old colleague, Hans (Wagner), a bullish type thriving in his career and enjoying a showily perfect relationship with pregnant wife Sana (Marischka). That couple’s shiny confidence causes both Chris and Gitti to question the way they see themselves and each other, causing cracks in their precarious closeness.

The film gets off to a good start with a virtuoso bit of mischief from Gitti, teaching Chris’s young niece how to express hate. Chris later indulges himself in a hugely entertaining performance, doing a slinky dance to Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson’s cheesy ‘To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before’. After the first half-hour, however, the drama is becalmed, as Chris and Gitti mull over their relationship at length, and generally behave with the sort of tetchy perversity and abruptness that may be true to life, but tends to mark a film as strictly art-house material.

Throughout, Ade makes a point of underplaying or defusing moments that seem to promise conventional drama: neither a failed dinner party nor a hiking trip, on which Chris and Gitti get lost, deliver the expected dramatic intensity. Somewhere within the languid atmosphere - with warm-toned photography by Bernhard Keller - is an insightful essay about the way lovers can feed on each other’s flaws. Acting is generally persuasive and relaxed, with Eidinger impressing as an essentially stolid character who seems to rely on his neuroses for a sense of self. And while Gitti’s inner depths remains somewhat elusive, Minichmayr achieves quite a feat in making her as vivid and often infuriating as she does. Even so, you wish that Minichmayr’s energies had been allowed to infuse this moody, rambling piece rather more.

Everyone Else | Reverse Shot  With or Without You, Eric Hynes from Reverse Shot,

 

Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) review [A]

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

EVERYONE ELSE, Maren Ade's sophomore splendor, arrives via Cinema Guild  James van Maanen from Trust Movies, April 8, 2010

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

Chris Knipp • View topic - Maren Ade: Everyone Else (2009)--NYFF

 

Slant Magazine review  Kevin B. Lee

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Berlinale '09 quinellas

 

Jigsaw Lounge : Cluj film-festival report [S.Seacroft[  Sheila Seacroft

 

The House Next Door [Joseph Jon Lanthier]

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Smoke a Lot of Big Monkey Butt*: Everyone Else (2009, Maren Ade)  Paul C

 

Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]

 

Boxoffice Magazine (Amy Nicholson) review [4/5]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review [3.5/4]

 

Big Picture Big Sound (David Kempler) review [1.5/4]

 

“A delicate psychological dramaturgy”  Ruediger Suchsland interview from Cineuropa, June 11, 2009

 

Village Voice (Aaron Hillis) review  Hillis interviews the director, September 29, 2009

 

Couples Chaos: German Director Maren Ade Talks About Everyone Else ...  Scott Foundas feature and interview from LA Weekly, October 28, 2009

 

Peter Brunette  The Hollywood Reporter

 

Variety (Derek Elley) review

 

Boston Globe (Wesley Morris) review [3/4]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Philadelphia Weekly [Matt Prigge]

 

Austin Chronicle review [3.5/5]  Marc Savlov

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Walter Addiego) review [3/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Betsy Sharkey) review

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review  April 9, 2010, also here:  MOVIE REVIEW | 'EVERYONE ELSE'; Perfectly Happy, Until They Venture Into the Outside World

 

FILM; Festival Forecast: Lots of Sulfurous Clouds  Stephen Holden covering the NY Film Festival (Page 2) from The New York Times, September 1, 2009

 

Multinational Forces at the Berlin Film Festival  Dennis Lim from The New York Times, February 13, 2009

 

TONI ERDMANN                                                     A                     96

Germany  Austria  Romania  (162 mi)  2016

 

You had asked what’s the worth of living?  The problem is that it’s so often about getting things done.  You do this, you do that and in the meantime life just passes by.  But how are we supposed to hang on to moments?  Now I sometimes sit and remember how you learned to ride your bike or how I once found you at a bus stop… But you only realize that afterwards.  In the moment itself, it’s not possible.

—Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek)

 

Despite being the most popular and critically acclaimed film at Cannes 2016, Cannes critics ratings, registering the highest score ever at the Cannes Screendaily Jury grid, Cannes: 'Toni Erdmann' sets Screen Jury Grid record - ScreenDaily, the film was strangely shut out of winning any major awards in competition, where critics such as Manohla Dargis (NY Times), Justin Chang (LA Times), Kenneth Turan (LA Times), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) and Guy Lodge (Variety) wrote that the decisions of the jury were quite simply “baffling,” especially considering the ongoing criticism targeting the festival’s scarcity of woman directors, where the festival missed a rare opportunity to recognize and reward a rising female talent.  By all accounts, it was a major shock when that didn’t happen, as the film is a major cinematic statement, one of the more original works to hit the festival circuit.  While nearly every film has some detractors, even on what constitutes a cinematic masterpiece, as films are often misunderstood at the outset and develop a reputation over time, what distinguishes this film is the pure enjoyment factor, as it’s hard not to dispute the sheer boldness of originality on display, written and directed by Ade in just her third film, where this far and away eclipses her earlier works in terms of complexity and scope.  While both earlier films are distinctive, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES (2003) is a minimalist walk through a self-induced psychological purgatory, where a perfectly ordinary middle class setting takes a turn for the worse, shot in a near documentary style, including a final shot to reckon with, which actually draws gasps from viewers, while EVERYONE ELSE (2009) which won the Jury Grand Prize (2nd place) at the Berlin Film Festival, is a far more sophisticated portrait of a doomed, yet good looking and seemingly progressive middle class couple whose sexual attraction hides their more deep-seeded disinterest in one another, where the camera incessantly hovers near them, perpetually exposing their attempts at maintaining a socially acceptable cover façade while ignoring all evidence of a deeper divide.  One might call Ade an on-the–fringe miserablist, though not full-fledged like Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, but both show a fondness for documentary realism, then embellishing the prevailing social order with remarkably downbeat unpleasantries.  This film could be described as a dazzling choreography of awkward and uncomfortable moments, an unflinching portrait of embarrassment, while also offering a searing commentary on displacement and dehumanization in the modern workplace, where feeling anxious and exceedingly insecure is the new normal.  At the same time, the film is a shameless father/daughter comedy battle of wills, a screwball portrait of family dysfunction, where each is willing to go to outrageous lengths to outmaneuver the other.  

 

Delving into previously unexplored territory, most of us are not at all familiar with the two leads, Austrian actor Peter Simonischek as Winfried, the extremely unorthodox, somewhat sleazy, shaggy dog father, and Sandra Hüller, his all-too normal daughter Ines, very precise in her efforts, a stressed-out, workaholic management consultant who is subjected to an unannounced, unexpected visit from Dad, leaving his home in Germany to visit her in faraway Bucharest, a visit that has enormous implications in her already existing turbulent world of trying to establish successful corporate relations.  In a film of this nature, the less you know ahead of time will likely increase your appreciation for the film exponentially, as, like any good comedy, being caught off-guard is the secret to its success.  The film’s near three-hour epic scale is part of its unique spacial architecture, set in a soulless Tatiesque landscape of towering glass skyscrapers, corporate convention halls, deluxe hotel suites, expensive meals, champagne, disco parties, and elegantly pampered hotel guests with endlessly flowing drinks in ultra-chic cocktail lounges, all part of the glamorous and exquisitely clean look of global capitalism, where the superficiality of the outer veneer accounts for nearly everything, where backroom mergers and behind-the-scenes deals are transitional phases necessary to bolster the financial bottom line, where it’s all about executive privilege, protecting those at the top, making sure they remain financially above the fray, even at the expense of that loyal and dedicated army of employees that sacrifice their positions before the altar of corporate greed.  Somehow, without expressly pointing any fingers or making any direct political commentary, this just happens to be the scathing setting for the film, taking place within a sprawling canvas of international commerce that initiates important meetings and special reports, transnational phone calls with interpreters, symposiums offering the presentation of bold ideas and suggestions, all with the hopes of impressing the top executive brass, as they’re the ones controlling the purse strings and are chiefly responsible for whether or not you have a job tomorrow or not.  Just how far is one willing to go in order to make a good impression?  Or in this case, how much humiliation are you willing to endure?  In this vastly expanding, seemingly limitless world of competing expense accounts, like something out of the delirious hallucinations of American Psycho (2000), Ines is trying to make her mark, to get noticed, to earn a living in the rampantly sexist, testosterone-filled, shark-infested waters of corporate downsizing, where her proposals, if they’re to be accepted, must demonstrate the brazen wisdom of eliminating more positions than the other guy, where she must be willing to strategize and justify swift and ruthless sacrifices, like an extremely well-precisioned military operation, where the carnage is needed to win the prize and claim that ultimate victory.  It’s all about the prestige of the company, supposedly built to last, while the minions of temporary workers will come and go. 

 

Francine Prose from The New York Review of Books, December 22, 2016, Prankster and Daughter:

 

In a revealing scene, Conradi (Simonischek) is waiting to meet Ines in an extravagantly upscale Bucharest mall that, complete with an indoor ice-skating rink, is the capitalist equivalent of Ceaușescu’s palace.  It’s the largest mall in Europe, Ines has informed him, in a country in which hardly anyone has any money.  They have come there because Ines has been asked to escort on a shopping trip the wife of a CEO with whom her company (a consulting firm that advises corporations on how to “outsource” their labor forces, and in the process fire a significant number of their employees) hopes to do business. 

 

When Ines at last appears with the CEO’s wife, who is flushed with the exhilaration of having spent so much money on luxury items, it again becomes clear—in her obvious willingness to put herself at the woman’s disposal—that Ines lives only for her work, that she is in thrall to her bosses and her “team,” and that her only desire is to succeed, at any cost, and perhaps win a hoped-for transfer to Shanghai.  Her father gives her a searching look, then asks, “Are you really human?”

 

Without revealing any of the hidden secrets that make this film such a novel surprise, this is a film that accentuates financial insecurity, that goes out of its way to visualize economic inequity, as outside the sleek windows of the modern 5-star hotels, one sees dirt playgrounds where kids nearby play, living instead in tenement row housing where people are literally on top of one another, packed together like sardines, remnants of a forgotten era in Romania’s communist past.  Add to this the language in the modern era workplace, which consists of cliché’s and an invented vocabulary of workspeak that is completely meaningless outside the workplace, as it’s a phony and fake language, sucking up to one’s bosses, agreeing inherently, without ever being able to say what you really mean, as you’re too busy degrading yourself publicly, continually deferring to the so-called expertise of your boss, where the film deftly highlights the routine humiliations of modern life.  The consequences are so severe that her father asks her, “Are you really human?”  While this may seem excessive, yet it all plays out in a kind of chaotic tug of war between father and daughter, by turns hilarious, excruciatingly painful to watch, yet also deeply moving, as Ade paints such an intimate portrait of two desperate souls, each trying to have their own way, where there’s a playful give and take where each plays along with the other, growing exceedingly irritated at having to do so, where it’s one of the more cleverly written pieces of cinema in recent memory, where the vastness of the ever-expanding canvas keeps imploding on itself, as the best laid plans continue to break down, requiring new strategies, where the father’s inner sense of humor is unleashed like a force of nature, or a genie exploding out of a bottle, causing such a high degree of embarrassment to Ines, who couldn’t be more straight-laced and uptight, a conscientious woman climbing a very male-dominated corporate ladder, always overly sensitive about protecting her image, where she constantly endures one pitfall after another, usually at her father’s expense, as he’s stupefied to discover this stranger inhabiting his daughter’s body.  So it’s an hour into the film before he resorts to his ultimate weapon, taking on the role of his alter-ego, Toni Erdmann, a specialist in practical jokes, a guy in a cheap suit, horribly unflattering wigs, who has a habit of carrying crooked false teeth in his pocket, where his notion of being an obnoxious irritant, turning up unexpectedly and embarrassing her in front of her friends and colleagues, becomes an exercise of the surreal, as there’s nothing he wouldn’t resort to.  The film largely follows the point of view of Ines, revealing her conflicting emotions throughout, where her eroding confidence in herself wears down, ultimately exposed as a mask, covering up her more vulnerable humanity, yet this is part of the workplace armor that one is required to wear, men and women, a camouflage of protective outerwear hiding the human within.  The final hour kicks into a new gear and simply surpasses all expectations, as our sympathies with the two characters are constantly tested, displaying an ebb and flow of constantly shifting moods, reaching unseen heights of comic farce and outrageous spectacle, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades, if ever, where plenty of this film is cringeworthy, yet also incredibly funny, and like Chaplin, the big surprise is how profoundly moving it becomes by the end, becoming an almost tender look at the absurdities and despairs of modern life. 

 

Cine-File Chicago: Edo Choi

On paper, TONI ERDMANN is the stuff of early-aughts awards fodder, the sort of vehicle that might've starred Dustin Hoffman opposite Julia Roberts in an Alexander Payne production. And were Hollywood to remake it today, as they have already threatened, one easily imagines an Adams-De Niro pairing helmed by David O. Russell. As it is, it goes something like this: after the death of his beloved dog, Winfried Conradi, an eccentric music teacher of the hippie generation, alone, divorced, and on the wrong side of the retirement age, sets out on a desperate attempt to woo back his estranged daughter Ines, an eighties child turned management consultant in Romania, and a good soldier in the neoliberal conquest of Eastern Europe. With the aid of a set of false teeth and an ill-fitting wig, Winfried, an outrageous prankster, crashes Ines in Bucharest, assumes the role of Toni Erdmann, “consultant and coach," and proceeds to upend her scrupulously cultivated professional life through a slew of haphazard, grotesquely humiliating sneak attacks. Sound familiar? In Maren Ade’s hands, this story of generational conflict is anything but. There is an extraordinary level of attentiveness and restraint to Ade’s regard here. On the one hand, this is a matter of camerawork and editing that always respect the evolving moment. On the other, it’s a matter of a screenplay that refuses to take even standard shortcuts to hit its beats. At no point, does any hand-of-god logic assert itself to steer things more quickly or more surely to their end. Instead, Ade preserves a deep, abiding trust in her leads Peter Simonischek and Sandra Huller, coupled with a refusal to allow them even momentary transcendence of the discomfort of their situation, and deepened by a wry, alert sense for the banal absurdities of self-presentation that dominate far too much of our contemporary lives. The result achieves a momentousness of both scale and intimacy the cinema simply hasn’t seen since the likes of Maurice Pialat and John Cassavetes. It’s also hilarious.

Film Comment [Amy Taubin]  May 16, 2016

We laughed till we cried, the “we” being the diverse, usually combative press corps, which almost unanimously embraced Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann as the first great film of the 2016 festival, in part because it accomplished what few films do in these polarized times: it made us aware of our common humanity.

An unlikely screwball comedy, Toni Erdmann focuses on a father/daughter relationship. Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is a sixtysomething, divorced, former piano teacher, living alone in a small German town. After his elderly dog dies, nothing keeps him from visiting Ines (Sandra Hüller), his only daughter, a thirtysomething rising executive who works in the Bucharest branch of a global corporation. Winfried is an indefatigable practical joker; Ines is a buttoned-up professional, even more rule-bound than her male colleagues, to whom she must constantly prove herself while also suggesting that she might be sexually available at some point down the line. Coping with her eccentric parent is the last thing she wants to do, especially since his anarchic behavior is intended to undermine her materialistic ambitions. To spare her from having to battle in public with her own father, Winfried reinvents himself as Toni Erdmann, a lifestyle coach, replete with Pythonesque wigs, oversized false teeth, and bad table manners. His implicit method: follow your impulses, the more laughable the better.

Trust in the creative impulse informs every aspect of the film, from Ade’s dazzling script which has just enough of a classical comedic structure to support two hours and 42 minutes of surprises big and small, to her direction, which is designed to liberate the actors as much as possible while the camera rolls, to the performances (Simonischek and Hüller seem to be as amazed as we are by the things their characters lead them to do). I seldom worry about spoilers, but the last 45 minutes contains four setpieces that take a film that is already great to a higher (say, The Rules of the Game) level, and the less you know about them in advance the better. Let’s just say they involve a karaoke performance, nudity, a very hairy embrace, and finally, a from-the-heart statement about how we could and should live our lives, which in almost any other film would seem like treacle, but here is thoroughly earned and provokes the tears that lay beneath the laughter all along.

Sony Pictures Classics won the bidding war for Toni Erdmann, which will certainly open in the U.S. in time for Oscar season.

Film Comment [Eugene Hernandez]  May 16, 2016

During multiple moments of Toni Erdmann, the latest feature by German filmmaker Maren Ade, the audience here at Cannes burst into applause. The loudest reaction came after an unexpected musical moment that united the film’s father (Peter Simonischek) and daughter (Sandra Hüller) in a fitting (and moving) duet.

“I thought about it when editing the film, or even before,” Ade said during a press conference. “Might there be applause? I was not sure if I would like that.” Yet, she conceded, “it’s a great thing when people applaud in your film!”

The musical sequence, a casual cover of a 30-year-old iconic American pop song, is so special because late in the movie it bonds two people who have struggled to navigate their strained relationship. Adults entering new phases of their lives, the father and daughter are at odds and unable to find a way to rebuild their familial bond.

In this extraordinary film, Hüller plays an uptight corporate woman named Ines, recently relocated to Romania for work, and Simonischek stars as her fumbling, playful father Winfried, who, desperate to connect with his daughter, dons a disguise and takes on an alternate persona named Toni Erdmann.

In early scenes, Ines is seen as sharply focused on her career, but later, when her dad enters the picture as Erdmann, he seems to disrupt the equilibrium she has created in her life. His gags and antics seem like the sort of dress-up games that parents instigate when their kids are young. But with his daughter all grown up and trying to play the role of a mature adult, his stunts set the stage for an intense conflict between the two.

Moments of pain and humor are interwoven throughout Ade’s dramatic and hilarious new movie as Ines and Winfried spar and share. Father and daughter struggle with how to relate to each other. Their outlooks have evolved to the point where the differences between them are striking, and there’s an increasingly poignant interplay at work exploring how each is navigating their personal and professional lives.

Clocking in at 162 minutes, Toni Erdmann takes its time unraveling its lead characters’ personas and building toward a powerfully cathartic conclusion.

“My film is less a plea for letting go than a plea for coming clean,” Ade said in press notes about her aims for this movie.

Following screenings this weekend here in Cannes, Toni Erdmann was widely considered by many to be among the very best in the early days of this year’s Competition.

“Father and daughter is such an emotional topic,” Ade explained during a press conference on Saturday, adding that she sought to strike a delicate balance between the humor and seriousness of these characters and their relationship. “The most important part was to be precise,” Ade said. “The viewer of a film, when you have this realism, can be pulled out of it very easily.”

Cinema Scope: Mark Peranson   June 27, 2016

But, as we’ve already been through, there was not to be a happy ending. Of all the notable omissions in the awards, according to the critics (Adam Driver is pretty spot-on in Paterson, but I wasn’t as keen as many were on Jim Jarmusch going Ozu, with cutaways to a nefarious bulldog rather than pillow shots in a naked attempt to win the Palme Dog), Maren’s Ade’s third feature Toni Erdmann stands out as the most egregious in the 15 years I have been attending Cannes. To nobody’s surprise, it racked up a 3.7 in the Screen Daily chart, the highest in recorded Cannes history (albeit edging out Mr. Turner from two years back), and everyone’s new hero Ade won the FIPRESCI award from the international critics. Aside from a few French holdouts, Toni Erdmann was far and away the consensus pick as the film of the festival, a true success of script, acting, and directing that manages to be fully German and universal at the same time, a film that received as close to universal acclaim as it gets in Cannes. Despite the now-popular 162-minute running time, which I’m sure some will hold against it, it’s easy to explain why. For starters, Sean Penn’s The Last Face notwithstanding, there are generally few laugh-out-loud films in the Cannes Competition (let alone funny German films), and Toni Erdmann, even if it’s not a comedy per se, is at times laugh-out-loud funny; as opposed to almost everything (except for maybe The Neon Demon), it’s genuinely unpredictable, especially in its climactic act (an uproarious set-piece party that, however tempted I may be, I shall not spoil); it features two crackerjack lead performances from Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller; and finally, there’s the fact that pretty much every critic, wherever they are from, is a child, a parent, or both, and on this count the film tugs at the heartstrings pretty hard. You would think there would be a similar emotional impact on the jury members, being as they are clowns (especially the dude who made Happy Feet [2006]), but they certainly, to paraphrase Toni Erdmann, “lost the humour.”

The triumph of Toni Erdmann also comes as little surprise to anyone who saw Ade’s last film Everyone Else, which won the Silver Bear in Berlin way back in 2009. (Or her 2003 debut The Forest for the Trees, whose graffiti-strewn original poster, featuring blacked-out teeth on Eva Löbau’s protagonist, brings to mind one of Toni Erdmann’s prominent gags.) Toni Erdmann has a lot in common with Ade’s earlier film, initially posing as a game of shifting perspectives and encouraging the audience to identify and sympathize with the points of view of both of the film’s main characters as they reveal—and are made conscious of—the roles they are playing. In the first act, this is mainly Winfried (Simonischek), an aging schoolteacher with a crippled dog, whose identity is so associated with his predilection for pranks that even at the most uncalled-for times it’s hard for him to avoid provocation. (He’s characterized by the false teeth he inserts and removes from his mouth as if by habit, as if he is totally unaware; it becomes an unconscious act.) At a family gathering he meets his daughter, the seemingly unflappable Ines (Hüller, always good but never better than here), who we quickly understand harbours an estrangement, and a long-standing sense of embarrassment, for her father’s lowbrow antics. (Winfried sees Ines so rarely that he jokes to strangers that he has had to hire someone as a “substitute daughter.”) The second and third acts, which unfold in Bucharest, where Ines is temporarily employed as a consultant to an oil company looking to streamline, becomes more her story. After a bumpy reunion, what she calls “the worst weekend of my life” to her friends, “Winfried” is replaced by a bewigged lookalike who calls himself “Toni Erdmann.” A more overt game is played with the same characters under a different set of rules, initially one-sided until Ines, who herself has unconsciously assumed, or internalized, the role of the prototypical German businessperson, spontaneously decides to take things to the next level.

Most of the action in Bucharest is in some way related to the sexist business milieu and set in lifeless, neo-European locations (hotel rooms, office buildings, bland apartments, horribly tacky bars and restaurants; it’s almost unbelievable to think that in a communist-era apartment block a few kilometres away a wake is being staged by Cristi Puiu, with another aging clown named Toni); but this is the new Europe. (One of the exceptions comes in another stunning set piece set at an Easter family celebration involving one real-time warbling Whitney Schnuck; again, I won’t say more, only that this apartment contains the semblance of authentic life, as opposed to the transient business existence mostly presented elsewhere.) In other words, in a daring move by Ade, almost everything generally considered as beautiful is drained from the mise en scène so as not to distract us from what matters, which are the actors/characters and their complicated relationship. Winfried is completely out of place in this environment, so much so that when he first arrives (unexpectedly) to greet Ines, she struts past him in the lobby of her building as if he wasn’t even there. She later explains she was with colleagues, so she had to ignore him, which sets up the further adventures of Toni Erdmann: life coach, high-powered businessman, German ambassador, Kukeri.

Though her father’s arrival throws her off her game—she makes a few faux pas in conversation with her client, sleeps through an important phone call, and blames Winfried for her errors—more than him causing her embarrassment Ines does a pretty good job of embarrassing herself. (Though during an extremely uncomfortable sex scene, par for the course for Ade, she gets off on embarrassing her partner.) Winfried’s antics are partly a result of his concern, as he senses that Ines isn’t happy in her life (and Huller does a fine job of appearing consistently agitated and downright miserable); before leaving her apartment to head to the airport, Winfried asks her, half-jokingly yet razor-sharp, “Are you really a human?” (This line is echoed later, after a successful business presentation, when her boss beams at her, “You’re an animal, Ines.”) But Winfried/Toni’s presence also makes Ines realize that he has a point, readily apparent in scene in a nightclub where her kind-of boyfriend behaves like a moron, pouring champagne from a bottle at crotch-level. Ines comes to be embarrassed by her friends’ behaviour as well, until she has the confidence—which, as the sex scene proves, was inside her all along—to willingly sacrifice herself on the altar of humiliation. Ines’ party is a wonderfully mounted mix of embarrassment, humiliation, a power exercise, and a climactic resolution, and is such an inventive moment because of the way Ade first mixes the public and the private and then builds on it by adding an element of the surreal.

Ade’s triumph is to locate the obfuscated humanity in both of these characters: under Toni’s wig and Ines’ full-body force field are a father and daughter, and Ade reveals what they look like naked. In the film’s necessary coda, back in Germany for another family gathering (this time a funeral), Winfried and Ines have one of those conversations that seemingly summarize the dramatic action and point the way to a life-altering resolution. (“Life is so often about getting things done…how are we supposed to hold on to moments?”) Ines shows she hasn’t “lost her humour” by taking Winfried’s false teeth and placing them in her mouth, letting her guard down, but as Winfried runs to get a camera to capture this special moment, Ines shuffles around, removes the teeth, and, again, tightens up her face, assuming her familiar, dejected pose. There are no such easy resolutions in life, Ade is telling us, and despite all that they’ve gone through there’s just as likely a chance that the next time father and daughter meet, whether it’s in Germany or Ines’ new work home of Singapore, it might very well be like nothing ever happened in Bucharest. It will exist as a memory that elicits a smile, but will recede quickly into the grey matter. Because in the game of life, the banal and the consistent trump the extraordinary, and there are no easy resolutions.

A Battle of Humour: Maren Ade on Toni Erdmann - Cinema Scope  Mark Peranson interview at Cannes from Cinema Scope, May 2016

Cinema Scope: Everyone Else premiered in Berlin in 2009, and now seven years later your third film is finally receiving its debut in Cannes. What took so long?

Maren Ade: Directly after Everyone Else, I started working as a producer. I have a company called Komplitzen Film with Janine Jackowski and Jonas Dornbach, so this took up some time, but it also really took so long to write the script for Toni Erdmann. It took me one and a half or almost two years. Then we had to do the financing, and I was in Romania for five months preparing. It was almost one year dealing with the shooting, and after that I had more than 100 hours of footage and I had to edit it, and again that took one and a half years. And I became a mother twice during all of that. But for me time went by very fast.

Scope: Most filmmakers tend to work once every year or two years, and often one feels that there wasn’t a lot of work put into the final product. This film feels like there was a great deal of effort involved every step of the way, as you said, in the writing, the shooting, and the editing. First could you talk about writing the script—did it begin with the idea of a father and a daughter? Did you do research?

Ade: For sure, the father-daughter thing was there in the beginning, but I didn’t have the real conflict between the two of them. I had this idea that he was kind of a practical joker, and I wanted to have a female character who would have a completely different occupation than me, namely working in the business world. In the beginning I wasn’t sure what job she would have. I wanted her to work abroad, so I started to do a lot of research on women working in management positions. I had to find the right company, and the right job she was doing…I was a bit lucky that I came across this idea of a consultant. A consultant is interesting to me because a significant part of that job is that you have to perform—you really have to play a role. I found it much stronger than a normal management position. It meshed very well with the father character, as he starts a performance as well in the film. Then I did longer research on humour, or on comedy and comedians. I spent a lot of time with Andy Kaufman on the internet, because it took four weeks to Google everything about Andy Kaufman.

Scope: So Toni Erdmann somehow alludes to Tony Clifton?

Ade: Yeah, and I especially liked this very funny wrestling thing he did, and the great book [Dear Andy Kaufman, I Hate Your Guts] with all the angry letters that women wrote him about that…I also looked at some German comedians. So I had to write, then research, and then write again. For example, this business presentation that Ines gives in the film was the hardest work for me, because I had to understand everything about the business issues, about her options, in order to write it. I wanted her to do a project that is complicated but not too complicated, and also it took a while to find that oil business, because I visited several companies in Romania. But luckily I decided on Bucharest very fast. I think almost every scene is written for a location, so it’s not that I wrote a scene, and then found everything later. I first had to go to these nightclubs before writing the scene set there; I couldn’t imagine a scene like that.

Scope: You were scouting the locations while you were writing the script?

Ade: I was in Romania visiting places, going out to bars, going to dinner, visiting hotels, and locations, and then I went back to writing. I did that two or three times.

Scope: The spaces in the film are very striking. I know you probably didn’t see Cristi Puiu’s Sieranevada, which is also about family relations, and it’s set maybe a few kilometres away from where your film is shot, but the films are a universe apart, not just geographic space but also time. You have these sterile or cheesy spaces, in-between spaces that suit these characters who are dislocated. What kind of feeling were you after from these locations?

Ade: It’s a bit cruel there in Romania, as on one side there is what you and I think is Romania, and then you have these other places, which are not only for ex-pats, but they are places for the Romanian upper class. There is a small number of very rich people in Bucharest—we have rich people in Berlin but they don’t show it, you know. I’ve never been in a city where I saw so many really expensive cars and so on…you have this very cruel gap. On one side, I do like that they like this over-the-top thing, but on the other side you could be anywhere. The sad thing about Bucharest is that when you drive around, you see all these things that are borrowed from other countries, all these franchises, Austrian and German companies; you feel like they sold themselves to the richer part of Europe as well as America. And the hierarchy that you have between the Germans and the Romanians inside of the companies in terms of nationality still exists—even though the Germans may have the better know-how, this attitude should be changed. So there were several things that were interesting about Romania. Corneliu Porumboiu helped me with the research, as did Ada Solomon, so I had some contacts there. Corneliu had some friends who worked as consultants. Through him actually I found a German woman working as a consultant, who coincidentally lives around the corner from me in Berlin, but I found her in Bucharest. She was very open and helped me. Afterwards Sandra was able to learn from her; she did a job that’s very close to what is in the script.

Scope: Did you have Sandra Hüller and Peter Simonischek in mind when you were writing?

Ade: No, there was a long casting process with several actors, and several combinations, but they were the best. I really like to have a long casting process. There was not a single role where I didn’t audition at least ten actors. And I flew to Bucharest to cast the other roles—like Ines’ assistant Anca is the perfect Anca for Sandra, and we have the perfect Flavia for Peter and so on. I like casting because it’s a good chance to find out something about the characters and the relationships. I feel it’s almost a part of the rehearsal process.

Scope: Would you say the characters changed, or were they as they were written on the page?

Ade: During the casting I really work with the actors, so in the end I have something very close to what I want. But it’s sometimes very difficult in the shooting to get back to what we had in the casting, even if it was something very simple. You’re on the set and you think, “Huh, we had it before. It was very easy but all of a sudden it doesn’t work any more,” because you repeat something that simply doesn’t feel fresh and then you have to take another way to come back in the end to what you want.

Scope: Are there elements in Winfried that are based on your own father?

Ade: Yeah. My father is really a very humorous guy; he likes to joke a lot. I was doing my volunteer service in Munich when I was 20 and I had a ticket for the premiere of the first Austin Powers film, and as a giveaway they handed out these false teeth, and I gave them as a present to my father. And since then he makes jokes with these teeth. So the teeth thing is really something I borrowed from him, and the rest…well, it’s not him. But he has a good humour and that really accompanied me.

Scope: It’s a very strange habit, this thing with the teeth. I don’t think I’ve seen that in a film before, and it signifies that this idea of being a prankster is part of himself, and not something he can turn on or turn off. But when he changes in the second part of the film, he makes an intentional, conscious decision to play a different person, an entirely different character, fully…

Ade: We worked a lot on this idea, so that when he appears as “Toni” it’s a surprise, and it’s a big step that he’s doing this, but it happens in a way that it’s believable. I spent three shooting days on the scene working with Peter, which is a really, really long time, because I knew that if the audience wouldn’t believe that, if the scene didn’t work, then you could throw away the film. It wasn’t so easy for Peter because he had to play Winfried and not Toni—it’s not a double role, you know, it’s not like he’s playing two guys, he’s Winfried playing Toni. Sometimes while shooting he was a bit sad that he wasn’t allowed to play the role more over the top…Peter had to walk a very thin line.

Scope: You said you had more than 100 hours of footage, and I know you like to shoot many takes. When you do multiple takes are they different takes with actors trying out new things, different camera placement or movement?

Ade: It’s more like finding how everything comes perfectly together. Sometimes it’s more the acting, sometimes the flow of the camera. Maybe you don’t feel it too much because of the focus on two characters, but there are almost 2,000 extras in the film, as well as little side characters, so there’s that, too. I tried to arrange the action of every scene almost the whole way through, even if it was long. For example, in the party at the end, the last shot was ten minutes long. I would need one week of preparation to get it perfect, but I took longer parts and broke them down. What’s happening with the energy of the actors is interesting, and I wanted to give them the chance to lead a scene, or experience a reality. If you stop too often, the film reality doesn’t happen, because you always feel like you’re shooting a film.

I tried to get both very free acting and this thing that the actors should be in the moment as well at the same time be aware of the subtext—because for my films the subtext generates the main conflict. It has to be very precise or things fall apart. In other words, they need to be aware what their characters actually think, feel, or mean compared to what they say or what they pretend they are. Let’s say I don’t find the one perfect thing during the shooting, but I have a feeling of what could be right, and then I want to have at least two good other options because maybe I’ll need them in the editing. A lot of times when I’m sitting in the editing room, I’m thinking, “Oh shit, this was wrong,” so I can’t rely completely on myself during the shooting.

Scope: So it’s not a question of perfection, say in the Kubrickian sense, in that you know what you want and shoot it over and over until you get what you want, until you get it right…

Ade: No, no, I don’t work like that at all. For me it’s more like finding something out. If I would know what the perfect or right thing was, it would take me half of the time to shoot the film. I think it makes the film better when you try to be open to what happens, or try to see what happens, and integrate things but not lose the focus. Also in terms of rhythm and so on, it’s very risky that you lose the rhythm of the scene. Usually we would do a scene ten or 12 times from one perspective. Sandra said in an interview that she did each scene 30 or 40 times, so that’s basically true…but it’s not that much different from working in theatre. I could do even more takes!

Scope: To what degree in this film is your goal reaching a point where the audience can identify with your characters? This is where Everyone Else and Toni Erdmann are similar, though Toni Erdmann goes one step further. In Everyone Else, who the viewer identifies with goes and back and forth, but it’s different because there it’s a romantic relationship and here it’s a father and daughter, with a different set of baggage. Watching as a viewer and a critic, I’m reluctant to be caught up that way in a film, because sometimes that can be too easy, but I have no problem with that in your films, and it’s interesting to consider why that is. Maybe it’s because you don’t privilege either character’s perspective.

Ade: I always want that when there are two characters, there are two sides. I don’t like identification when you don’t feel free anymore. But you feel free because you can decide which one of the characters you identify with, and it’s even freer because these characters have not decided on things themselves—this is really important for me. On the other side, I come as close as possible to their conflict. It’s not like I say I want identification—some films do this, that’s not my main intention—it’s more that I want to try to create the situation where I can look behind the characters, or that there is always something more going on than the things they say. People ask me how I create this awkward feeling and so on, and I think that more than the film itself being awkward, this sense of awkwardness more comes out of the fact that you maybe find yourself in the characters. For me a film has to be something where you walk around a little bit, so identification without freedom doesn’t work for me.

Scope: Is the freedom something that you get not only because of the length of the film, but also the length of the scenes? You allow the interactions to play out longer than you would find in a typical film.

Ade: That’s what I found out when I tried to shorten the film; it gets very banal and less complex. The film needed a certain length…it just takes time. The more that you want to say, the more time you need. And when I tried to cut the film down, it was really astonishing to me, and very frightening, how fast you can ruin the whole film. The moment you take out 20 minutes, then you have the father coming, he’s an idiot, she’s a businesswoman…it gets very simple, very fast. It takes film time to be able to look at certain things.

Scope: Was there pressure to make it shorter?

Ade: Not really. You know, sometimes there is this rush in the editing to finish for a festival, but I don’t like when I have a feeling the film is not edited until the end. I wanted to be 100 percent sure because I had to defend the length. I have to say, “I’m sorry it has to be 150 minutes,” and I needed to find that out to be sure. I finished so close to Cannes because I took a lot of time deciding on the editing. If I were maybe a little faster on that, it wouldn’t have been so close. The thing I stretched was the editing and not the rest of the post-production.

Scope: You mentioned researching comedy and Andy Kaufman. If you think the film is a comedy, which maybe isn’t an easy answer, maybe you can address the idea of German comedies, why they aren’t so successful or exported. Do you watch a lot of German comedies?

Ade: This is the question I’ve been asked a lot of times…

Scope: I’m surprised people care.

Ade: I don’t know much about German comedies…we have great comedians in Germany; it’s not that we don’t have a tradition of being funny. I think most of the comedies that are made try to copy American comedies, maybe, and then you get a strange mixture that doesn’t work anymore. For me it’s my personal humour in the film, and I’m German, okay, but actually for a long time I haven’t watched a German comedy. And, you know, I don’t think the film is a comedy. It’s a drama where you laugh sometimes. It’s so funny that people are calling it a comedy.

Scope: I’m also interested in what you think is German about the film in terms of behaviour, especially regarding Ines. It’s not just the role that she’s in, but also the fact that she’s a German. If she were another nationality, maybe she would behave differently throughout the film.

Ade: Especially in the business world, a German woman has to deny a bit that she is a woman. It’s common that you have to behave a bit masculine, and not show any feelings. In Romania there’s a greater percentage of women working in high positions in business than in Germany, and they wear make-up, high heels…that was something very surprising to me, this image of a powerful woman who also wears pink. But the father for me is very German, as a member of the postwar generation who had this strong conflict with the generation that came before; it was very clear for them who the enemy was and what should never ever happen again. The father for me is not a “hippie guy,” as his code of values is very middle-class, he’s bürgerlich. This older guy joking is someone you can find in every country though—it’s almost a genre in itself, the funny 65-year-old.

Scope: There seem to be some other specific German elements, like life coaches; I’m not sure if it happens in other cultures. People getting professional advice as to how to behave in professional situations seems to be very German to me.

Ade: In other countries there are more women working in the business world; it doesn’t suit the picture of Germany. Though we have a female chancellor…but she has to be masculine to succeed.

Scope: Does this relate at all to the rather uncomfortable sex scene between Ines and her co-worker Tim in the hotel room?

Ade: For me this scene is a battle of humour, actually. He’s saying “Ha, ha, we spoke about that, that’s why I fuck you,” and she says, “No, I don’t want to lose my bite,” then he says, “Come on, don’t be so humourless.” It’s a misunderstanding between them, but it’s also a kind of duel. He asks, “Ha ha, do you find this funny,” and that’s what interests me about this scene. And she tries a bit to be a “Toni,” or something like that. She’s not in the mood any more, and it’s not her problem that he’s in the mood. So she’s just doing nothing. I don’t think she’s refusing. Okay, there is this thing with the petit four, but he could just say no when she asks him to do that…Some people think it’s her being dominant, but no, she’s trying to be funny.

Scope: So it’s not a question of power for you, more her just reacting in the moment?

Ade: It’s always a question of power, but for me it was more that she is refusing something. We worked for a very long time on the scene, and I think the best version was always when she was astonished that he does what he does in the end with the petit four. And people are laughing, which I think is the correct reaction. And the Tim character is not someone we need to sympathize with, so it’s okay. He’s not Anca, you know!

Scope: Do you see the film as feminist?

Ade: It’s okay for me when people say that, but it wasn’t my intention. Maybe the film can be read that way because I’m a woman, but it’s not that I said, “Well, I want to start a revolution…” But the thing is, what the father wants from her, and she denies, is also a woman-man thing. The father would never have gone to his son and asked, “Are you happy?” So the father is not on the right side with his values—he’s being conservative. Yeah, on the one side there is this issue about being human or not, which can apply to a man or a woman, but on the other side that’s why she gets so angry, because he’s asking her that thing. This is why it’s important for me that in the end she continues her job. It was never the idea that she gets through this event even higher than where she wanted to be before. Sometimes I was a bit afraid that I was trying to say that she should be more open, but in the end I think she chose the right job. It’s just that she should maybe try to integrate some other things in her life.

Scope: Some critics had doubts about the film’s coda, which I’m curious to hear you address. Did you ever consider ending the film with the two of them hugging in the park, which would have made the film, well, uplifting?

Ade: Yeah, we should just have put the titles there? That would ruin the whole film. All you critics would have been in shock! I hated that, but the question was asked, and we discussed it, but it was so simple and stupid, them hugging each other, you need to let it continue. Even him falling to the ground…it still would have been, “Oh, that’s the message: hug each other sometimes and things will be better.” It would have been very, very wrong. I think the two had to meet in real life. I know by that point people are thinking, “Maybe it could be a bit shorter,” but I felt that I had to stay with that rhythm for the final scenes.

Scope: I felt their encounter at the funeral is pretty essential, as it really brings home the fact—and I suppose you could read the scene in a number of ways—that it’s an ambiguous ending. And also you have moments in dealing with relationships, whether its with friends or specifically relatives, where you think you have a breakthrough, but the next time you revert to familiar, ingrained behaviour. The film needs drama to exist, but what I take away from the film, and this also relates to what we were discussing about the locations and the mise en scène, is that in the end things will essentially go back to being the same. I mean, maybe it’ll be a bit different, but not drastically different.

Ade: Yes, that’s what I wanted to have. That’s also what touches me, that they put so much effort, both of them, in order to change a very, very little thing…I think that’s funny in a way. But I wanted the ending to be open, and I don’t want to think about it any further. My thoughts end when the film ends, and the rest is up for the viewer to decide. I think everything could be possible, but it’s nice that they will share this little secret that happened in Bucharest.

Prankster and Daughter  Francine Prose from The New York Review of Books, December 22, 2016

 

A portrait of Maren Ade: The Art of the Cringe Factor - Goethe-Institut   Birgit Roschy

Between existing and living! | Orissa Post  Piyush Roy

Daddy Issues: Maren Ade's acclaimed 'Toni Erdmann' finds comedy in ...  Daniel Eagan from Film Journal

 

Artforum: Dennis Lim   June 03, 2016

 

Nick Pinkerton on Toni Erdmann  Artforum, December 23, 2016

 

Sight & Sound [Jonathan Romney]  May 15, 2016

“Toni Erdmann”: Maren Ade's latest film is typically awkward, surreal ... L.R.S. from The Economist

Toni Erdmann is a 3-hour German film about modernizing Europe. It's ...  Alissa Wilkinson from Vox, December 29, 2016

 

Paste [Tim Grierson]   also seen here:  Toni Erdmann :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste - Paste Magazine 

 

girish: TIFF 2016: "Toni Erdmann" and "Aquarius"

 

Critic After Dark [Noel Vera]

 

Review: Maren Ade's 'Toni Erdmann' Is a Comedy Experience Unlike ...  David Sims from The Atlantic

 

Movie Review: Toni Erdmann -- Vulture  David Edelstein

 

Slant Magazine [Christopher Gray]

 

Cannes Review: Maren Ade's 'Toni Erdmann' Details ... - The Playlist  Jessica Kiang, also seen here:  The Playlist [Jessica Kiang]

 

Cannes 2016. Maren Ade's "Toni Erdmann"   Daniel Kasman from Mubi Notebook, also seen here:  Toni Erdmann

 

Cannes 2016: Maren Ade's Mediocre 'Toni Erdmann' Has Been ...  Alex Ramon from Pop Matters

 

Michael Sicinski at Letterboxd

Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann | White City Cinema  Michael Glover Smith

TONI ERDMANN  Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion

 

The Film Stage [Giovanni Marchini Camia]

 

Writing: Movies [Chris Knipp]

 

International Cinephile Society [Marc van de Klashorst]

 

Cannes 2016: 'Toni Erdmann' Review | Indiewire  Eric Kohn, also seen here:  'Toni Erdmann' Review: Here's the Funniest Nude Scene of All Time ...

 

Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]

 

Toni Erdmann – first look review - Little White Lies  David Jenkins, also seen here:  Toni Erdmann – first look review 

 

Time [Stephanie Zacharek]  also seen here:  Stephanie Zacharek 

 

Filmaluation [Hemanth Kissoon]

 

The House Next Door [Sam C. Mac]

 

Screen Anarchy (Ben Umstead)

 

PopOptiq [Ben Vollmer]

 

No Film School [Emily Buder]

 

'Toni Erdmann': Cannes Review | Reviews | Screen  Lee Marshall from Screendaily, also seen here:  Screen International [Lee Marshall]

 

A.V. Club [Mike D'Angelo]  also seen here:  Cannes premieres its first great film, and Spielberg does Roald Dahl   

 

Film-Forward [Kent Turner]

 

Film Racket [Jason McKiernan]

 

Toni Erdmann | 2016 Cannes Film Festival Review - U.S. ... - Ioncinema  Nicholas Bell

 

Village Voice [Bilge Ebiri]  also seen here:  Reasons to Rejoice, From Cannes: 'Paterson,' 'The Handmaiden,' and ... 

 

IONCINEMA [Eric Lavallee]

 

J.B. Spins [Joe Bendel]

 

Flickreel [Craig Skinner]

 

Toni Erdmann : Like a bull in a china shop - Cineuropa  Fabien Lemercier

 

Cannes Dispatch #1: Sieranevada, Staying Vertical, Slack Bay, Toni Erdmann  Blake Williams from Filmmaker magazine, May 16, 2016, also seen here:  Filmmaker Magazine [Blake Williams]

 

The Upcoming [Jasmin Valjas]

 

We Got This Covered [Josh Cabrita]

 

Flickfeast [James McAllister]

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

CineVue [John Bleasdale]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Richard Mowe]

 

Reverse Shot [Jordan Cronk]  May 18, 2016,  also seen here:  Cannes Film Festival 2016: Part One - Features - Reverse Shot 

 

MUBI [Daniel Kasman]  Top pick of the Cannes Fest

 

Reverse Shot: Michael Koresky   #2 Film of the Year, January 02, 2017

 

Some Came Running: Glenn Kenny   #4 from Fifty Noteworthy Films Released In The United States in 2016, December 27, 2016

 

Are the Hills Going to March Off?: Carson Lund   #17 on Top 20 Films of the Year

 

Sight & Sound [Nick James]  May 18, 2016

 

BFI [Geoff Andrew]  May 24, 2016

 

Letterboxd: Filipe Furtado

 

Fandor: David Hudson

 

Daily | Cannes 2016 | Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN  David Hudson from Fandor

 

Maren Ade on 'Toni Erdmann,' the Most Embarrassing Film at Cannes ...  Emily Buder interview from No Film School, May 20, 2016

 

Discussing "Toni Erdmann" with Maren Ade on Notebook | MUBI  Daniel Kasman interview, September 9, 2016

 

Brooklyn Magazine: Emma Myers   interview January 11, 2017

 

Maren Ade: 'Toni Erdmann's humour comes out of a big desperation ...  Jonathan Romney interview from The Guardian, January 21, 2017

 

Toni Erdmann's Maren Ade interview: 'I don't ... - The Independent  James Mottram interview, January 31, 2017

 

Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]

 

Hollywood Reporter [Leslie Felperin]

 

Variety [Guy Lodge]

 

Toni Erdmann, directed by Maren Ade | Film review - Time Out  Dave Calhoun

 

Toni Erdmann review: long German comedy is slight, biting little ...  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, also seen here:  Guardian [Peter Bradshaw]

 

Cannes 2016: Toni Erdmann, review - the most German comedy ever ...  Robbie Collin from The Telegraph, also seen here:  Telegraph [Robbie Collin]

Film reviews round-up: Toni Erdmann, Gold ... - The Independent  Geofrey Macnab

Cannes 2016: Toni Erdmann, American Honey and the Palme d'Or ...  Kaleem Aftab from The Independent

 

Cannes review of Toni Erdmann | Screenwriter - The Irish Times  Donald Clarke

 

Bangkok Post [Kong Rithdee]

 

Metro US [Matt Prigge]

 

Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]

 

'Toni Erdmann' movie review by Justin Chang - LA Times  also seen here:  Cannes: The gentle giants of Steven Spielberg's ... - Los Angeles Times 

 

San Diego CityBeat: Glenn Heath Jr.

 

Toni Erdmann Movie Review & Film Summary (2016) | Roger Ebert  Susan Wloszczyna

 

Cannes 2016: "Slack Bay," "The Student," "Toni Erdmann"  Barbara Scharres from The Ebert site, May 13, 2016

 

Review: In ‘Toni Erdmann,’ Dad’s a Prankster Trying to Jolt His Conformist Daughter   A. O. Scott from The New York Times, December 22, 2016

 

How ‘Toni Erdmann’ Became an Unexpected Comedy  Rachel Donadio from The New York Times, December 30, 2016

 

The Director of 'Toni Erdmann' Savors Her Moment at Cannes - The ..  .  The New York Times, May 22, 2016, also seen here:  New York Times [Manohla Dargis]

 

Toni Erdmann - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Adler, Carine

 

UNDER THE SKIN                                     A-                    94

Great Britain  (85 mi)  1997

 

A first time writer and director makes a film strikingly similar to Gary Oldham’s NIL BY MOUTH, as both explode with gut-wrenching performances portraying the raw, gritty realism of working class life on the edge, even down to the ending, as both use a song as a poetic means of explaining the character’s internal anguish and despair.  This film could have been one of the best of the year, but it disintegrates near the end where it inexplicable resolves out of nowhere into a somewhat happy ending, seemingly so simplistic that one feels a bit cheated.  It was truly stunning, as it just completely changed gears. 

 

This film features a sizzling first time performance by Samantha Morton who takes us through a descent into her personal Hell, using dangerous and reckless sex to express her rather dysfunctional attempt to deal with her slowly disintegrating world, opening the film nude as Iris, drawing iris’s around her navel, narrating the story through her eyes like a personal diary.  Her sister is Rose, Claire Rushbrook, named after her mother’s favorite flower, insisting Rose is her mother’s favorite.  “They’re so close, they’re always doing everything together.”  But her mother has a brain tumor, diagnosed with 3 weeks or 3 months to live.  “She doesn’t even notice me.”  There is a slow motion dance of Iris with her mom, then Rose is in tears as two men take the body of her mother away.

 

Iris is shown working in a lingerie shop attempting to help older women try on bras, but she feels the world closing in on her and quits in a momentary panic, leading her to a movie theater.  “I don’t know why I wanted to talk to this guy, maybe it was his eyes or his mouth, I wanted to kiss him, so I did.”  Images of making love are intercut with her mother’s casket entering the fire of the crematorium.  After screwing Tom, she moves out on her regular guy, Gary, and to the rhythm of some terrific upbeat music, she brings bundles of flowers to her new apartment where the first thing she does is masturbate, and just before she gets aroused, the phone rings, the music stops, it’s Rose.  They go through their mother’s things, Iris tries on her mother’s wig with some flashy glasses and a fur coat, “You look like a slut.”  “Thank you,” Iris coos.  Rose mentions “We’ve got to talk about mom’s ashes, I miss her, I used to talk to her every day.”
 
“Be still my heart,” Iris says to herself when she walks into a church, listening to the church choir, staring, haunted by the heartfelt beauty.  Iris has a girl friend that works in the Lost Property department of the Liverpool transit system, and from unclaimed merchandise, she starts dressing more sexually provocative, wearing mini skirts with more lipstick and black eye shadow, and in a masturbation fantasy, there is an eerie scene walking through a cluttered flower shop where her mother is a janitor sweeping up the shop.  When Tom’s telephone number is disconnected, she hits a singles bar where Massive Attack’s song “I Believe in One Love” blares as the camera moves over all the men, as if feeling each one out, close ups on shoulder, arms, cheeks, lips, until she finds Tom, ordering him to kiss her.  Naked images are seen as the music changes to religious choral music, internally she says “I feel him, I feel him.”  She has the recurring dream in the flower shop again, this time while having phone sex with Tom, who hangs up after he reaches orgasm before she can utter a word.  She tries out for the church choir, not really able to carry a tune, which is followed by more sex with Tom, this time in red images, as if in a dream.  “We never talk, I don’t know anything about you,” Tom pleads.  “That’s what’s so nice,” Iris responds,” It’s not what you say, it’s what you do that counts.”  “All we do is fuck” Tom realizes, and he’s out the door, leaving her alone to make puppet shadows on the reddish pink wall.
 
Rose is pregnant, and in a conversation with her husband asks if Iris is prettier than she is.  “No,” he responds, “but she’s got a great body.”  They enter a huge apartment, which is followed by an image of Iris walking past cars at night, on her night prowl into the clubs, shown in slow motion, slow dancing, wearing only a slip, exuding sex, eventually picking up a new guy.  The next morning, Rose and her husband drop by asking about their mom’s ashes.  Iris indicates she lost them.  “Iris, you can’t just pretend nothing’s happened.”  Iris then throws them out, throwing flowers at both of them, “Get the fuck out!”  She’s back on the street again, this time turning towards any man that looks at her, going with any man, intentionally getting raped by a violent man, returning home to discover her phone’s been disconnected, losing contact with the outside world.  There is a tragic scene where she waits at a public phone for Tom’s ten o’clock call that never comes, but she refuses to give up the phone until one of the women waiting threatens violence.  Iris returns back to the violent guy, apparently the only guy left, and he ties her up, blindfolds her, then pees on her, followed by a beautifully tender transition of piano music playing while she washes herself in the bathroom sink.

 

The pace of the film accelerates into a more edgy, frantic chaos. When Iris’s purse gets stolen by street kids, she desperately begs Rose for money, then gets in a violent argument when she sees Rose wearing one of her mother’s rings.  She tries using a phone, but gets in an argument with the operator, leaving her no choice but to walk out into another dark night alone to a pulsating, grinding rhythm on the soundtrack.  She tries to get back Gary, her old boyfriend, but he’s now with her former best friend and he locks her out.  Angered, horrified, and in tears, she returns to the bar with the familiar musical refrain, “I Believe in One Love,” and calls Rose’s husband, knowing Rose is out of town for the night, and drunkenly tries to seduce him.  Rebuffed, she stumbles down the street, drunk, listening to the voices in her head of her mother. 

 

Everything up to this point has been cohesive, Iris is completely backed up against it, nothing feels out of place, but then it feels like we missed something in the editing, like an entire piece of her life is missing.  The whole tone of the film takes a major leap and don’t ask how it got there.  Rose greets her the next morning confessing she took their mother’s ring, Iris reveals their mother’s ashes, and next thing you know, Rose is delivering her baby.  Iris is filming the delivery, as her husband was out of town, and was the first to hold the baby.  “Rose and I are a lot alike, except she still tries to boss me around,” then shifting to Iris taking the stage at an amateur night club, thinking of her mother, “Sometimes I walk down the street and someone reminds me of the way she walked or the way she smiled.  It’s nice to remember those things,” before she breaks into song, singing Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally...in my hour of need, I truly am indeed, alone again, naturally,” dropping her mother’s ashes into the ocean, swirling her body around on the beach one morning in a warm, soft image of the rite of spring. 

 

Bright Lights Film Journal :: Bereavement in British Cinema  Richard Armstrong, August 2004

 

Adler, Yuval


BETHLEHEM                                                          B+                   91

Israel  Germany  Belgium  (99 mi)  2013

 

You think we need Bedouins from who knows where to tell us what’s good for Palestine?  Your father just learned to wear shoes last week

—Abu Mussa (Karem Shakur), head of the Palestinian Authority.

 

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the same New York production company, Adopt Films, which previously released standout independent arthouse films like 2013 Top Ten List #4 Tabu (2012) and 2012 Top Ten Films of the Year: #10 Sister (L'enfant d'en haut) , had their hand in distributing both Hany Abu-Assad’s Palestinian film Omar (2013) and also this Israeli film, both dealing with the exact same subject from slightly different perspectives, a stark look at the impact of how the Israeli secret police coerces Palestinian prison inmates into becoming Israeli informers in exchange for their release.  Abu-Assad is a Palestinian born in Israel, making him an Israeli citizen, though he doesn’t consider himself one, as Israel still considers itself a Jewish state.  His previous film PARADISE NOW (2005), a film about childhood friends becoming suicide bombers, was the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Foreign Film category.  At the time, the director was quoted in a Tel Aviv newspaper that had he been raised in the Palestinian territories instead of Nazareth, he likely would have become a suicide bomber himself, "Oscar nominee: People hate Israelis for a reason - Israel Culture, Ynetnews".  Yuval Adler, this film’s director and co-writer, served in the Israeli Military Intelligence where he was assigned to what he described as technical tasks, operating drones and maintaining their engines, while co-writer Ali Waked is a Palestinian journalist, with some of the events he covered finding their way into this story.  In the three years it took them to write this film, they interviewed members of the Israeli secret police Shin Bet while also operatives for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Hamas, producing a powerful, tightly-wound thriller that looks behind the scenes of these often at-odds organizations and follows the story of a complex developing relationship between an Israeli Secret Service agent and his teenage Palestinian informant.

There’s a meticulous level of detail throughout, especially in the elaborate exposé of military intelligence, both on the Israeli and the Palestinian side, producing a work of intense scrutiny that offers real insight into how the intelligence world operates in the Middle East.  While the film is a balance of Hebrew and Arabic, the end credits also list both, side by side, with a little English thrown in as well.   

 

While Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the West Bank, it’s also one of the largest Christian communities and includes important Jewish shrines, so the town is interestingly patrolled by both Palestinian and Israeli police, though the presence of Israeli police tends to incite instantaneous riots, creating quickly growing mob scenes with groups throwing stones at the occupiers.  This hostile environment is nothing less than a war zone, as it’s a community ravaged by unending cycles of violence, where the fanaticism on both sides only escalates.  This is one of the few films, along with Omar, to show balance while creating an unmistakable picture of what life is like in such war-torn areas, where we see it play out viewed from both sides.  From the director, writers, and actors, almost everyone involved in this production is working in a film for the first time, including a terrific use of non-professionals, where according to the director, a Columbia graduate who has a Ph.D in philosophy, the motivation for the film was watching a video news excerpt from the Palestinian territories of an informant dragged through the streets with a hundred people just standing by as he was shot and executed in cold blood.  This kind of savage violence is at the root of the film, as it continues to play such a prominent role in Arab-Israeli relations, much like the use of drones, becoming the unspoken weapon used in the war on terror.  It is not by accident that the title of the film references the birthplace of Jesus, whose parents supposedly encountered difficulty finding appropriate lodging several thousand years ago, as this is a film that moves between Palestinian and Israeli society, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which are geographically quite close, separated by a valley that to this day remains a no man’s land and figures quite prominently in the film’s finale.  The film’s center is a complicated relationship between Razi (Tsahi Halevy, an Israeli singer-songwriter with a history of combat duty in the Israeli army), a veteran Israeli Shin Bet operative fluent in Arabic who is working in an antiterrorism unit, and one of his informants, Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), a young 17-year-old Palestinian recruited two years earlier with the sole purpose of helping track down his older brother, Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), considered a major threat to Israeli security, as he’s the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a man Razi has been targeting for over a year.   

 

The film opens as Palestinian suicide bombers have struck in the heart of Jerusalem, leaving behind more than 30 Israeli’s killed, while Ibrahim has gone into hiding.  The Shin Bet agents are on high alert, calling in all their contacts, where Sanfur is seen living in the shadow of his infamous brother, still living at home with his aging father who views his older son as a local hero, his “only source of pride,” while Sanfur can only be trusted with sweeping the floors where he occasionally works as a busboy.  Early on we see Sanfur posturing with his friends, recklessly trying to prove his courage and manhood, and in a male-dominated world, this is high priority, as it reflects one’s image and worth to the community.  Yet at the same time, we see the deference shown to this young man by Razi, who is very careful how he treats him, where he’s something of a father figure, offering advice, helping him get out of jams, claiming “I’ve spent more time with him than my own kids.”  According to one of the Israeli secret agents interviewed before the film, “The key to recruiting and running informants is not violence, or intimidation, or money, but the key is to develop an intimate relationship with the informant, on a very human level.  It’s not just the informant who is confused about his identity and loyalties.  The agent, too—and especially the good ones—often experience a blurring of the lines.”  In fact, Razi’s motives are as confused as anyone’s, where the film takes us through a maze of behind-the-scenes turmoil, where Razi wants to protect his operative, showing genuine concern, and even lies to his superiors when pressed on the issue, while there’s backfighting among the Palestinians as well.  While the Palestinian militants all hate Israel, they also dislike one another with equal intensity, something this film is particularly adept at exposing, as the secular Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades are affiliated with Fatah, the largest contingent of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which maintains control of the governing Palestinian National Authority in the West Bank, while they contemptuously refer to the radical Islamic Hamas as “the beards,” believing Hamas is undermining their own authority in order to make the Palestinian Authority look weak and ineffective, as Hamas loathes the corrupt bureaucrats of the Palestinian Authority (seen misdirecting targeted funds and driving gigantic SUV vans) who are attempting to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel to save face with the Western powers, especially the United States. 

 

As all these forces are swirling around in a state of pandemonium and chaos following the incident, the first half of the film is mostly seen through the eyes of Razi, who has a beautiful wife and family that he rarely sees, as the needs of his job are round the clock, never taking a break, where much of his effort is in providing reassurance to Sanfur, who grows less and less trustful, eventually cutting off ties altogether, where the second half is largely seen through the anguished eyes of Sanfur, who so much wants to prove himself, but the world he lives in is always in a heightened state of paranoia and suspicion.  There’s a brilliant action sequence when Ibrahim is tracked down and chased through a market into someone’s home, cornered into a firefight with an Israeli commando squad, turning into a brutal and bloody siege in the home of an innocent family, where the intense street level fighting is further accentuated by an angry mob that is turning on the presence of Israeli police in their neighborhood, where rocks and bullets have a surprisingly powerful effect, where the sense of havoc and turmoil is everpresent, especially on a top secret assassination mission.  The tempers flare afterwards when both Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades claim the corpse of Ibrahim as one of their own, where even in death the conflict continues, where the political insight astutely shows a fractured West Bank that is continually reactive and on the defensive, never developing any coordinated plan of action.  After the death of his brother, Sanfur only grows more angry and militant, reaching out to the leaders of Al Aqsa, the local militia led by Badawi (Hitham Omari), but they’re curious about his relationship to his brother, where certain details cause them concern, especially when they hear Sanfur helped funnel money to Ibrahim from Hamas, a group they’re fiercely at odds with, and the more they press the matter the harder it is for Sanfur, who is just an adolescent kid, to maintain his own sense of identity.  Tugged and pulled, manipulated and coerced on all sides, yet never able to distance himself from his brother, there is no place where Sanjur is safe, nowhere for him to go, ending up all alone in a no man’s zone, finding himself just as trapped as his fanatically committed brother with no way out.  A film about conflicting loyalties, where Razi is equally divided at placing his hard earned informant at risk, but it especially shows just how elusive the enemy becomes when you also have to contend with an enemy from within, where there is no peace and no safe haven, as you can’t trust anyone, and you’re left with no place called home.                                           

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

In Bethlehem, retribution is more credible, unpredictable, and personal. Director Yuval Adler, who had served in Israeli Military Intelligence, co-wrote with Palestinian journalist Ali Waked. In this debut feature, the use of a Palestinian informer is even more incendiary: the asset, who has a brother aligned with Hamas, is 17. He’s more vulnerable, not only because of his age but for having a years-long bond with his Secret Service handler, Israeli family man Razi (Tsahi Halevy). Fluent in Arabic, Razi genuinely feels protective towards Sanfu (Shadi Mar’i), even when the kid doesn’t realize all of the behind-the-scene strings Razi pulls to insulate him, and throughout the years, he has rewarded the teen with gifts (though a flashy iPhone may not be the most inconspicuous).

There are many different types of turf wars going on: the Palestinian Authority vs. Hamas, Razi taking on upper management, Sanfur vs. his hardline family. The storyline never moves in a direction that loses the plot’s inner-logic. Like in Omar, this is a male-dominated battlefield, but Bethlehem takes jabs at the machismo posturing and preening, questioning when personal pride gets in the way of the political. The back-to-basics direction also includes a lucidly choreographed shoot-out between a militants and the Israeli army, where the suspense derives from what you can’t see around the dark corner. Perhaps most impressively, Adler brings out volatile performances from his non-professional cast (the film shares a father, actor Tarek Copti, with Omar).

TIFF 2013 | Bethlehem (Yuval Adler, Israel ... - Cinema Scope  Jay Kuehner

 

Utterly circumscribed by its political geography, Yuval Adler’s Bethlehem delineates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a Palestinian teen, Sanfur, who at film’s outset is boldly protesting to his peers that he’s got the nerve to take a bullet to the chest (aided by a protective vest presumably looted from Israeli officers). That he spends the remainder of the film maimed from impact—which the director casually elides—is evidence of Adler’s desire to maintain an uncompromising veracity to a conflict that loops concentrically among familial, religious, and political loyalties. At once a willful warrior in the Palestinian cause and an informant to a doting Israeli officer who took the boy under his wing at an early age, Sanfur shuttles between this surrogate father figure and his older brother Ibrahim, who’s high on the Israeli secret service’s hit list. There’s an action sequence in which Ibrahim is tracked and cornered into a nasty gunfight that shows off Adler’s knack for kinetic warfare on a street level, while being insightfully detailed in its exposition of political haranguing among Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, who ironically compete for corpses felled in the cause. The salient publicity point for the film seems to be its escalated but not inflamed sense of partisan politics, owing to a script co-written by Adler and Palestinian journalist Ali Waked. The film will unfairly beg comparison to Hany Abu-Assad’s Paradise Now by virtue of context alone, but a more instructive reference may be Abu-Assad’s documentary Ford Transit, for the way it provides incidental insight into a conflict by focusing on one of its chief movers—namely the white trucks that once belonged to the Israeli army but have since been inherited by Palestinian taxi drivers. Bethlehem is compelling for its regional exposure, but a tendency for narrative velocity and plot machinations (otherwise known as a thriller) gives away the film’s ultimate agenda as genre-dependent, regardless of site-specificity. Credit to Adler though for the necessarily unhappy ending.

 

In Review Online [Drew Hunt]

Another addition to what’s become a long string of tight-knit films set within the Israel-Palestine conflict, the efficient if unremarkable crime drama Bethlehem uses the infamously ongoing struggle as the thematic backdrop for a story of loyalty, family and morality. Spending equal time with both sides, the film seeks a sort of objective middle ground, but rather than achieving a valuable neutrality, the whole thing just feels indifferently dramatized. The densely plotted script co-written by director Yuval Adler and journalist Ali Wakad—the latter is Palestinian, the former Israeli, and both supply the script with personal insights and experiences—is essentially structured like a truncated season of The Wire, paying close attention to the methods and idiosyncrasies that define both groups; unlike The Wire, however, a fresh sociopolitical worldview never materializes.

The story pivots on the complicated relations between Razi (Tsahi Halevy), an Israeli antiterrorism operative, his 17-year-old Palestinian informant Sanfur (Shadi Mar’i), and Sanfur’s older brother Ibrahim (Hisham Suliman), who’s either a hero, a militant, or a terrorist, depending on who you ask. That sort of idle shoulder-shrugging is found throughout the film, leaving us with the sort of clichéd bottom line that has accompanied this conflict for ages: Both sides have their favorable points, both sides are guilty of one thing or another, and an unwillingness to compromise only prolongs the violence. If you’ve watched even 10 minutes of CNN in the last decade, you’ve basically seen Bethlehem.

Still, the film skips along at brisk pace, even if the action isn’t always visually appealing. Adler, making his directorial debut, doesn’t so much direct as arrange and frame, following the rigors of the script perhaps too closely. His handheld camera and faux-documentary compositions belie a complete lack of imagination and spontaneity. Indeed, Bethlehem feels as if it’s bound to an invisible track: Tritely political dialogue exchanges follow sequences of tactical espionage follow manufactured emotional epiphanies—it doesn’t take long to deduce the pattern as the film barrels toward an abrupt denouement.

One unique wrinkle to these otherwise standard proceedings is Adler’s use of amateur actors. Halevy, for instance, served in the Israeli army and saw combat firsthand, while Mar’i grew up around the film’s primary shooting locations. Their performances are stilted, to be sure, but not exactly unnatural. Mar’i, for instance, has a noticeable “fish out of water” gaze throughout, but such wariness matches his character's bewildered disposition. His interactions with Halevy are particularly poignant, and together, their makeshift father-son relationship provides the script with a much-needed human dynamic. As the story progresses, and the cast of characters grows wider, their story takes a backseat before being reintroduced in the film’s waning moments. By then, Adler has spun his wheels with superfluous subplots and bootless politicizing, so what are meant to be bracing conclusions arrive with a thud rather than a bang. The same can be said for the film at large, which wades through the heated Israel-Palestine conflict the way one wades through a checkout line.

Slant Magazine [Oscar Moralde]  also seen here:  The House Next Door [Oscar Moralde]

 

PopMatters  Renée Scolaro Mora

 

Bethlehem / The Dissolve  Noah Berlatsky

 

Critics At Large : Art vs. Propaganda: Bethlehem and Omar  Shlomo Schwartzberg

 

The Daily Beast [Daniel Gavron]

 

Graffiti With Punctuation [Andy Buckle]

 

Indiwire [Oliver Lyttelton]

 

Movie Mezzanine [Christopher Runyon]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Sound On Sight [Josh Spiegel]

 

IrateFilms

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

 

Yuval Adler on 'Bethlehem' and Heidegger - NYTimes.com  Larry Rohter interview from The New York Times, December 11, 2013

 

Variety [Leslie Felperin]

 

The Telegraph [Robbie Collin]

 

A gripping thriller exposes unsettling Israeli-Palestinian truths  Mitch Ginsburg from The Times of Israel

 

'Bethlehem,' a film of spies and intrigue and Oscar ... - Jewish J  Tom Tugend from The Jewish Journal 

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]

 

Review: 'Bethlehem' a taut cat-and-mouse game - Los ...  Sheri Linden from The LA Times

 

LA TF [David Morris]

 

RogerEbert.com [Sheila O'Malley]

 

Yuval Adler and Ali Waked Breathe Life Into 'Bethlehem' - NYTim  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times

 

Adlon, Percy

 

Percy Adlon  official website

 

SUGARBABY

Germany  (86 mi)  1985

 

Time Out

A sweet romantic comedy, with chubby Sägebrecht playing a lonely undertaker's assistant who falls for a young knight on a shiny yellow subway train and stalks him in, one initially supposes, forlorn pursuit - the punchline being that her U-Bahn inamorato (Gulp) is married to a black-clad harpy and highly susceptible to a little old-fashioned seduction. Adlon paints working class Munich like Pabst on speed, in acid-drop colour and expressionistic camera angles - a kaleidoscopic visual gloss on the characters' repressed and unspoken emotions. He ponders on the feminist and fatness and the folly of cultural stereotypes in the most diverting and persuasive of ways, providing food for thought as well as a feast for the eye.

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)

A glum, overweight woman (Marianne Sagebrecht) who works in a Munich mortuary finds her life illuminated one day when she catches a glimpse of a handsome young subway conductor (Eisi Gulp); she knows he's the Zuckerbaby of her dreams, and she sets out to catch him, studying the subway schedule, planning elaborate ruses, and finally luring him to her apartment, where he falls madly in love with her (1985). Director Percy Adlon (Celeste) deftly avoids the traps built into the material: the film is neither sticky and cultish nor grotesque and exploitative. The script ideas, which might seem familiar in outline, are pushed so far that they emerge in the pure, clear, mythic realm that lies on the other side of cliche, and the playfully abstract visual style that Adlon has adopted (lots of color filters, low camera angles, and wacky, unmotivated camera movements) gives it the allure of a real-life animated cartoon. A charming surprise, concocted with dignity and affection.

The New York Times (Janet Maslin)

 

BAGDAD CAFÉ

Germany  USA  (95 mi)  1987

 

Time Out

 

A radiant, oddball comedy-drama about the relationship that develops between a fat Bavarian tourist (Sägebrecht), an irritable black truckstop owner (Pounder), and a weirdo artist (Palance, smiling and delightful, in bandana and snakeskin boots), set in the dusty Arizona desert land of lonesome motels beloved of Sam Shepard. Sägebrecht, her husband ditched along the way, arrives sweatily out of the yellow haze, absurdly decked out in buttoned-up suit, green felt hat and feather, high heels and suitcase; gradually she transforms, and is transformed by, the lives of a motley band of misfits who inhabit a dilapidated diner exotically named 'The Bagdad Café'. A wish-fulfilling fable about culture-clash and the melting-pot, it's also firmly grounded in telling and cinematically original observations. Adlon's method is at once intimate, quirky and affirmative: precise evocation of place, expressive colours, and a slow build-up of characters, allow him to raise the film effortlessly into realms of fantasy, shafted with magic and moments of epiphany.

 

 eFilmCritic  Thom

 

Shakespeare, who knew everything, would begin his comedies by removing the main characters to a remote and unfamiliar site. The break in the patterns would allow for everything to get fucked up so it could come back together again in a new improved way. That is why they are comedies and not tragedies. Imagine getting stuck in that remote location and calling it your home instead of reassimilating back into the social structure you came from.
Bagdad Cafe is that place. Everyone is from someplace else. Some have been there long than others. They all have a story but for some reason, this time around, the characters engage each other and the chaotic systems of life repattern themselves into their collective story.

The movie is a beautiful portrait in the middle of a desert where flowers bloom. Flowers blooming in the desert is the overall theme of this film, literally and metaphorically. The particular alchemy of coincidence causes a chemical reaction that forges something new out of the seperate elements that maintained their inertia. Everyone gets what's missing in their life and their affect on each other challenges each other and makes them grow into more well-rounded people. The Motel where this all takes place is like a hospital where nobody knew they were sick until wellness begins to spread.

The characters are so off-beat, you'd expect this to be an Australian film.

You'll see some familar faces in this film in some unfamiliar roles. But a regular gig on ER certainly pays more than an obscure independant film produced in another country, yet filmed in English.
 
A wonderful film about making friends, crossing boundaries and discovering how much of our life is other people.
 

Films Outside the Loop (Jeanne Chappé)

There are very few films that I consider perfect. This is one of them. The film takes place in the middle of the Mojave desert at a neglected motel and cafe. You can feel the desolation, smell the hot wind and taste the dust. This is a place where all hope has died. It is one of those places that you see from the corner of your eye...as you fly past them in an air-conditioned car.

Into this scenario walks a German woman who has been dumped on the highway by her abusive husband. Her name is Jasmin (pronounced 'Yasmine' like the 'Bleeth'). Jasmin is played by Marianne Sagebrecht who is very much at ease in the shape of her container. Inadvertantly, Jasmin ended up with her husband's suitcase which contains (of course) men's clothes AND a magic kit. She then meets the odd (I am avoiding the word dysfunctional) characters who inhabit this small world.

Brenda is the owner (and totalitarian BOSS) of the motel and cafe. She is played by CCH Pounder carrying quite a few less pounds. She has a slut for a daughter and a son whose mind is totally consumed by classical music. Rudi (played beautifully by Jack Palance) is an ex-set painter from Hollywood who lives in a tiny Airstream trailer nearby. Another resident is Debby (Christine Kaufmann) who is a morose tattoo artist (and possibly hooker).

There is the difference in cultures...with both Brenda and Jasmin suspicious of one another. There is also a very clean, mysterious, bright yellow coffee thermos, a rifle with a hair-trigger, a boomerang, an incredible rainbow and some pink flamingos (for color). Above all, there is a whole lot of magic!

The same haunting song floats in and out through the entire film. Watching this film is like stepping into a place outside of time (right off the side of the highway).

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

Frau Muenchstettner was born to scrub. She is an artist with a Hoover, the type of woman who understands why they'd name a dishwashing liquid Joy. Though West German and a tourist, she knows that the way to an American family's heart is through whiter whites and brighter brights -- even if that family is living in the last bastion of true grit, The West.

Marianne Sagebrecht of Munich's avant-garde cinema is the unlikely heroine of Percy Adlon's first English-language film, "Bagdad Cafe," a gingerly, happy little fable about a Mojave Desert oasis run dry. With its foibles and quirks, it's something like a Sam Shepard play by way of the Black Forest.

Bagdad is just a spot on the map, a dilapidated cafe' with a motel out back and a gas pump out front. Under the sick lemon sun dwells a tiny, improbably ethnic population. CCH Pounder plays the irascible black matriarch Brenda, who manages two kids, a dreamy husband and the run-down complex. They share the place with a native American short-order cook (George Aquilar), a tattoo artist (Christine Kaufmann) and a mellow primitive artist (Jack Palance). It's definitely a foreigner's idea of the nation's disparate human landscape. Adlon even throws in a rainbow.

All these strange folks are in a funk, their spirits broken like the cafe''s coffee maker. And then along comes the first sign of magic: a Bavarian thermos that is perpetually full of coffee. Brenda's husband finds it abandoned on the highway along with the weeping Jasmin Muenchstettner, who nervously refuses a ride. Jasmin, who has just split with her husband, arrives at the cafe' hours later, and only slightly disheveled. Coincidentally, Brenda has just told her husband to get lost. They are two women sleeping single.

They also couldn't be more different in color, shape, culture and temperament. Brenda, meaner than cactus quills, takes an instant dislike to the Lane Bryant-sized, sweet-natured Jasmin. But after a lot of cleaning and cajoling, Jasmin wins the trust of the skinnier woman. The polar personalities propel the story, but there's something condescending about an Aryan Mary Poppins dropping by to save a black family from debt and despair. Nevertheless, it's a winning story of friendship, extended family and rediscovered femininity.

As in "Sugarbaby," which also starred Sagebrecht, Adlon's heroines are happiest when they find the yen within -- when they're nurturing and being nice. They enjoy being girls, as it were. Here, Jasmin strips away her dowdy Bavarian manner along with her thick wool suit and discovers she is not just a middle-aged hausfrau, eventually posing nude with a split cantaloupe for the artist Rudi Cox (Jack Palance).

Her Windex-blue eyes shining, she also wipes away the layers of grime at the cafe'. And voila`, Brenda's sunny side begins to emerge. She no longer sees Jasmin as a threat, but accepts her for what she is, a woman as generous of spirit as she is of body. The two women begin to work together, the cafe' flourishes, and Brenda begins to smile again and love her kids. There's beer and Coke and coffee and plenty of customers at the Bagdad Cafe, drawn by the ladies and the actual magic they've learned to perform.

The movie does seem to have been pulled from a hat, a series of surprises tossed off by Adlon and his producer wife Eleonore. The script grew out of the couple's 1984 trip across the United States. Barstow, Calif., reminded them of purgatory. And of course, "Bagdad Cafe" is all about escape from limbo.

Sa gebrecht, who redefined sex appeal in "Sugarbaby," is the most alluring full-figured girl since Jane Russell. She is an understated actress in an overstated body, enjoyable precisely because she is so peaceful and sweet. Like the rest of the cast, she was chosen for her eccentric style. It's rather like the characters from "Sesame Street" doing an anal-compulsive western.

Epinions [Stephen O. Murray]

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Graham Barron]

 

Washington Post [Desson Howe]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Janet Maslin) review

 

YOUNGER AND YOUNGER

Germany  USA  (99 mi)  1993

 

Time Out